FRANKLIN FURNACE — Simply put, just call ‘em the Comeback ‘Cats.
As Green has been a 2020 volleyball team known for its rallies, the Bobcats’ biggest comeback of the season took place on Monday — in their most important match to date.
That being the Division IV sectional semifinals against visiting Belpre, as —albeit extremely close — the 16th-seeded Bobcats lost the first two sets to the 17th-seeded Golden Eagles 26-24 and 25-23.
From there, though, and aside from the first four points in the decisive fifth game —it was a “Green” light all the way, as the Bobcats stormed back and captured the final three sets 25-8, 25-18 and 15-8 to advance.
With the rally, and ultimately the victory, the Bobcats raised their record to 7-11 and —more importantly —moved on to play at top-seeded South Webster on Thursday for the Division IV sectional championship.
The Bobcats, which made the second and third sets interesting at times despite getting swept at Southern Ohio Conference Division I champion Notre Dame a week ago, stared down a straight-sets sweep against the Golden Eagles.
Green hurt itself with errors in the opening two games, and despite never trailing by more than four points three times in game one and by five points once in game two, did trail two-sets-to-none.
But the gong went off, the light came on, and the Bobcats got it together to play pretty much three sets of volleyball about as well as can be played.
“We talk all the time about perseverance and just to keep fighting and not giving up. There’s going to be things that go wrong, but they have to stay positive and stay together,” said Green coach Madi Gaffney. “Our emphasis is always working as one and winning as one.”
And won they indeed did, and even did so in comeback fashion in the no-margin-for-error fifth game.
Belpre jumped out to a quick 4-0 advantage on middle hitter Halee Williams’ block and kill, followed by back-to-back aces from Lindsie Johnson.
But the Bobcats called a timeout, and whatever was said in that sideline session —needs to be bottled up and sold.
Green reeled off the next nine points — kick-started by two thunderous Kame Sweeney kills, followed by two Golden Eagle attack errors and a Gracie Daniels ace to put the Bobcats in front for good.
This time, Belpre —which ended its season at 4-18 —called a timeout, but another Sweeney kill made it 8-4 followed by another attack error and yet another timeout taken by Belpre.
“The girls got going in the fifth set. And when they get going, they get going. They stay together, talk to each other. I always tell them it’s serves and swings. We have to hit more and get our serves in. Those are things that we did well in the third, fourth and fifth sets,” explained Gaffney. “It was really important to our success tonight.”
The two teams traded two more points apiece to get to 11-6, then Green gained a 12-7 lead before setting up match point at 14-8 — following Lori Brown’s well-placed kill in the back corner of the Golden Eagles’ defense.
Ava Jenkins — the Bobcats’ libero and one of four Green seniors along with Sweeney, Sydnie Gallion and Marissa Boza playing their final home match —served up an ace to end it, and give the Bobcats the dramatic come-from-behind triumph.
Besides the standout Sweeney’s 15 kills, Daniels dialed up for a dozen —as Brown added seven and Adriah Barber another five.
The Bobcats finished with 41 kills, and overcame 16 errors with a 36-percent hitting percentage.
Of their 32 assists, Alex Smith set for 20 and Boza another 11 —as Sweeney was even credited with one.
Defensively, Sweeney and Brown both had two solo blocks, as Jenkins with 17 and Sweeney with 16 recorded three-fifths (33) of their 55 total digs.
Gaffney said her club cleaned up its play over the final three sets from the opening two —when it could have won one or even both.
In games three and four, the Bobcats never trailed —and were only tied once at 1-1 in the third and 4-4 in the fourth.
Their largest lead in the third was the 25-9 final in which they were never threatened —as Sweeney stepped up and hammered down eight kills, a block and one of her half-dozen aces.
“I tell them all the time play clean, play dirty. They laugh at me when I say that, but it’s true. That third set was probably one of the cleanest sets we’ve ever played. If you play clean, you are digging everything up off the floor and hitting the ball and staying out of the net,” said Gaffney. “Then it carried over in the fourth set.”
In that fourth set, the Bobcats bolted out to three eight-point advantages of 16-8, 17-9 and 18-10 —and won seven of the final 11 points after the Golden Eagles erased half of their deficit down to 18-14.
A kill and ace by Sweeney sandwiched around a Golden Eagle hitting error extended the lead to 21-14, as Brown’s game-ending kill officially tied the match at two games apiece.
Truth be told, Green would have, could have —and maybe even should have —won in four games, but Belpre took advantage of the hosts’ mistakes in the opening two.
There were nine ties and five lead changes in the first game —with Belpre’s largest leads at 5-1, 6-2 and 23-19 with Green’s biggest margin being 17-14.
The final tie was at 24-24, but the Bobcats committed two attack errors to end it.
The second see-saw set saw more of the same, including 11 ties and six lead changes —as Green led 11-8 before Belpre built an 18-13 advantage.
The final tie was at 22-22, as the Golden Eagles earned the final point to win 25-23 when Williams went right at Sweeney with a hard block attempt — and Sweeney blocked it in return out of bounds.
From that point on, however, it was all about the Comeback ‘Cats.
“It was a very nice win. Very proud of the girls for battling back all the way and getting this one,” said Gaffney.
While the Golden Eagles and Bobcats were pretty much evenly-matched, Green goes into one-loss and state-ranked South Webster with the monumental task of pulling off a massive upset.
The Bobcats will indeed be overwhelming underdogs against the Jeeps, but as Gaffney stated, “anything can happen”.
“It will be a tough game, but every game we go into there’s two things. Anything is possible number one, and number two, you just have to go play,” said the coach. “We’ll carry over that attitude of fighting back and continuing to play and we’ll give them all we have.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved