The final point of the Div. III tournament game between host Garaway and visiting Ridgewood probably summed up exactly how intense this winner-take-all game was.
The ball zinged around the court like a pinball, banging off of diving players on each side of the net. Several times it appeared as though each team had gained the point, but every time the ball neared the floor, a Pirate or General dove, bumped it up and kept play going. Eventually, the ball settled on the floor on Garaway’s sider, and Ridgewood had gained a four-game victory to advance to play top-seeded Buckeye Trail.
Ridgewood won the first game 25-23, then zipped through game two with a 25-17 win. Garaway responded in kind, churning out a 25-19 victory to force game four, where Ridgewood hammered out an early lead, before Garaway forced its way back into the game, only to get nipped 25-22 in that wild final point.
“We knew we had to stay aggressive and keep the pressure on them throughout the entire game, especially at the net,” said Brenda McCoy, Ridgewood’s head coach. “They are such a great team. They hustle, they have a lot of character and we have so much respect for their program. We knew this was going to be a fight from the moment we stepped off the bus.”
This one was destined to be a knock-down, drag-out fight. Each of the first two confrontations between these two Inter-Valley Conference powers went the distance, with Garaway winning the first match in five sets, and Ridgewood capturing the second contest in five.
The first game was as entertaining as the last, with both teams trying to get a foothold on the match and put momentum in their corner. Ridgewood got that win, and then went on to post the easy victory in game two, allowing it to put all the pressure on Garaway. It was big-hitting Autumn Brown that put them in position to win.
“We knew we had nothing to lose and had to go all, and we knew it was extremely important to get on top early,” Brown said. “We tend to get down when we get behind, so we felt it was huge to get ahead. Based on how things went this year in the regular season, we fully expected to go five coming into tonight.”
While it got down, Garaway wasn’t finished. The Lady P’s played their best volleyball of the match when trailing, a trait their head coach said is typical of this team.
“I don’t know if it is a good thing or a bad thing, but we generally play better when we get behind,” said Roach.
“I’d prefer not to put ourselves in that position, but it is nice to see us respond the way we did when we got behind.”
Amber Monigold, Allison Luneborg helped ignite the third-game comeback for Garaway. It was the jolt of energy and confidence they needed, but even with that momentum, Ridgewood still chugged out to a 10-6 lead in game four.
Again trialing, Garaway played at its best, and when Luneborg slammed a ball down the alley, Garaway had recaptured the lead at 15-14.
It didn’t last long. Ridgewood tied things up at 17, then pushed ahead 19-17. The lead was then at 22-18, and again Garaway fought back, trimming the lead to 22-21, but the Generals would go on to close out the game, sending the Lady Pirates home at 16-9 on the campaign.
“It was every bit as intense as everyone thought it would be,” Roach said. “We prepared as well as we could have and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Unfortunately, we didn’t move our feet and made some critical mistakes down the stretch that allowed them to pull away. You can’t afford to have any kinds of mistakes against a team of this caliber.”
Roach said she was proud of her team for battling back after falling behind on several occasions during the evening. The first-year head coach said it was a great learning experience for her this year, and she loved her team’s desire and attitude throughout the season.
“This group never gave up,” Roach said. “They played hard no matter what the score. I think jitters may have played a role today, because we did some things we hadn’t done all year. That last point pretty much typified our season and this game. People were fighting, diving and scrapping all over the floor. Both teams left it all out there.”
Ridgewood actually turned its season around after a sluggish start, and McCoy said it is due to the improved play of libero Riley Young.
“She has improved immensely over the course of the season, and I think she has played her two best games of the year right here at Garaway,” McCoy said. “Plus, we have developed seven go-to’s that we can set to at any given time, and that has taken time to develop too. We’ve just come together and we have gotten more aggressive in running our plays. That last point kind of shows how far we have come. At the beginning of the year we weren’t nearly as scrappy as we are now. We probably don’t make those plays earlier.”
Ridgewood advances to face the top-seeded Buckeye trail team that they played in districts last season. Ridgewood actually knocked off Buckeye Trail, and they hope to follow suit again this season.
“That will undoubtedly be a difficult game for us, but this one was every bit as challenging as any we have played this year,” McCoy said.
For Garaway, it will have to be satisfied with giving a tremendous effort that simply fell a tad short of where they wanted to be.