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St. Paul rallies past Buckeye Central in five

Mark Hazelwood • Oct 21, 2019 at 10:30 PM

WILLARD — It was never going to be easy.

Not with the level of play and deep history between these two familiar foes.

Already trailing 2-1 in Thursday’s Division IV district semifinal match vs. Buckeye Central, the St. Paul volleyball team was seeing its Game 4 lead slip away.

But just when it looked like hopes were going to be dashed, the Lady Flyers pulled out a 27-25 win — then dominated a decisive Game 5, 15-9.

The win set up yet another clash against Firelands Conference rival Monroeville at 6 p.m. Thursday in the district championship match. The No. 5-ranked Eagles (23-1) and No. 7-ranked Lady Flyers (22-2) will play for a seventh time in 11 years in the district title match, with the winner advancing to a regional semifinal.

Buckeye Central (19-5) won Game 1 (25-21) and Game 3 (25-14), while St. Paul had won Game 2, also in convincing fashion, 25-15.

With the exception of Game 4, none of the sets were closely-contested late.

“It felt like we were on and we were off,” St. Paul coach Nancy Miller said. “We were off in areas we had not been off in this year. And I know in good matches against good teams you will see those mistakes you don’t normally have.

“But that said, we were doing things we should not have been doing,” she added. “It’s that pressure. We’re young in the aspect of having not been in that situation before in a tournament setting. But I think our big kids came through.”

Facing elimination, St. Paul led most of Game 4 in steady fashion, including 21-16 after Brooke Houck put down a kill.

It was still a 23-20 lead, but Buckeye Central made its move, eventually tying the match, and briefly taking a 25-23 lead.

With the season on the line, the Lady Flyers saw the Bucks serve a ball out of bounds to tie it back up — then Holly Powers gave St. Paul the 26-25 lead before an unforced error by Buckeye Central sent it to a fifth game.

In Game 5, it was never in doubt.

With Kennedy Stang opening with an ace, the Lady Flyers were off to a 3-1 start. That lead swelled to 5-1 as Megan Hammersmith delivered her third straight kill and sent B.C. into a timeout.

Buckeye Central still trailed 8-4, then continued to be its own worst enemy with three consecutive out of bounds hits that allowed St. Paul to open up a commanding 11-4 lead.

The Bucks made one last push to close within 13-9, but St. Paul sealed its comeback win with a tip at the net that fell for a point.

“We played well in a Game 5 earlier this season, and I think the confidence from that helped,” Miller said. “Coming off making some big plays at the end of Game 4, and Holly stepped up in the team timeout and said it … we needed to use that momentum and feed on it.”

Hammersmith finished with 21 kills, eight points and an ace to pace St. Paul.

“Megan was phenomenal for us,” Miller said. “That kid has been that rock for this team from the first day. Everything we throw at her, she does. We just keep adding little jobs for her to do, but she is the kind of kid who will run through a wall for you.”

Kennedy Stang served nine points with five aces and led the defense with 25 digs, while Presley Stang had 23 digs with 14 points and two aces. Houck had 12 kills, Powers added nine kills and Josie had 18 digs.

Also for St. Paul, Dylian Knoll set 41 assists.

“Kennedy got in a little bit of a funk there in Game 1 and 3, but I was so proud of her for getting herself out of that,” Miller said. “She was making some big digs down the line and she was serving well.”

As for a seventh meeting with the Eagles in a district title match since 2009, Miller knows her team will have to rise up big on Thursday. Each team won the home match during the regular season.

“I’m so proud of these kids to put themselves in this position,” Miller said. “Just knowing everything they have been through and the way these younger kids have stepped up, and the older kids have filled roles they weren’t supposed to.

“I think when we play like we’re capable, we play good ball,” she added. “There is no doubt that is what we will have to do on Thursday.”

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