Science Hill volleyball coach Louise Stallworth already had the 2012 season’s eulogy worked out in her mind Wednesday night.
The Lady ’Toppers trailed Dobyns-Bennett 2-1 and were facing a 20-12 deficit in game four in the loser’s bracket final of the District 1-AAA tournament at the Science Hill Gymnasium.
But Renzey Rice and company dug their way out of the grave for a dramatic 3-2 (25-22, 19-25, 19-25, 25-23, 15-13) victory that required some two hours and a considerable portion of many of the partisans’ fingernails.
The Lady ’Toppers (40-11) play Sullivan South today at 6 p.m. in the championship, and clinched a spot in next week’s regional.
“I had my speech all prepared,” Stallworth said. “’Well, we did the best we could. We’ve got three really good teams in this conference. We got beat by a better team tonight and I think Dobyns-Bennett and Sullivan South will go to the state.’
“Honest to goodness, I had it all prepared, especially after the third game.”
Science Hill, which also beat Sullivan Central 3-0 (25-20, 25-12, 25-13) on Wednesday, scored the final six points to win the first game against D-B and 13 of the last 16 to win game four.
And the Lady ’Toppers were down 4-0 in game five before Anjali Reddy helped right the ship with her serves. Science Hill took its first lead in the finale at 8-7 on Keisha Gregory’s winner. She followed with another and Rice’s ace made it 11-7.
D-B, which ended the season at 38-12 and split four matches with Science Hill, got within a point three times after that, including 14-13, before Rice’s finesse winner at the net sent three Lady Indians sprawling to the court in vain, setting off simultaneous scenes of elation and devastation on either end of the court.
Rice finished with 12 digs and 11 kills, and knew when she elevated for the final one that it was going to be a tip instead of a slam.
“Yes, because I knew that they were pulled back waiting for me to hit,” said Rice, who never lost faith in Science Hill’s chances. “Obviously, we were kind of nervous, but you know, a lot of us are seniors out on the court and we did not want to go out that way. Like, we knew that we were gonna fight back no matter what.”
Gabby Lyon had 19 kills, eight solo blocks and a .342 hitting percentage. She delivered three of the final five points, including the final two, to clinch game one and her block gave the Lady ‘Toppers the lead for good at 23-22 in game four. After Caprisha Webster adeptly dug a hard slam, Lyon tipped it across for a point that put the Lady ‘Toppers within a point of victory in the final game.
“I thought Gabby played wonderfully,” Stallworth said.
Gregory had 11 kills, eight digs, three aces and hit .375. She delivered two aces among Science Hill’s final five points in the furious game-one rally, and her kill via an assist from senior setter Morgan Malone started a 9-1 run in the pivotal game four after D-B had taken the 20-12 lead. Gregory produced two straight points to give Science Hill a 9-7 lead in the final game, and those were book-ended by Rice aces that helped build the advantage to 10-7.
Rice had scored three straight to tie game four at 22. The East Tennessee State commitment had some of her future teammates in attendance, as if she needed any added incentive.
Stallworth said Rice was so jacked up for Sullivan South on Tuesday that she nearly vomited.
“Lindsay wants to win so bad,” Stallworth said, “and she thinks she has to do it all herself. She wants to do it all herself. And we have to back her off a little bit and say, ‘Let your teammates play a little bit too,’ and then get her to relax. And she finally did. …
“And she's fully capable of it (doing it all), but she can’t get that in her head so much that … she starts making mistakes.”
Stallworth said it was “one of the best matches of the season” for Reddy, who had 13 digs and eight kills. Malone tallied 47 assists.
Webster was also invaluable in the comeback victory. In fact, D-B fans applauded her hustle when she ran far beyond the back left corner of the court, albeit fruitlessly, when D-B stopped a 3-0 run to take a 21-15 lead in game four.
But it barely rippled Science Hill’s wave of momentum. Indeed, tension seemed to shift to the Lady Indians’ side of the net, and Lyon’s finesse winner answered D-B’s point and started a 9-1 run.
“I do know the tendencies of teams when they get in a tight situation like that and they have a team coming back on them,” Stallworth said. “They get tight and they start making mistakes. ... I was really astounded by the fact that we kept our composure long enough to fight back to that position where we could put that kind of pressure on them. ...
“That’s been the character of this team all year. They’ve been down and they fight back. They don’t quit. ... It’s all heart.”
Lexi Hartsock had 24 digs for D-B. Kerri Jones had 48 assists and Ashton Beckner had 18 kills and five blocks.
Sasha and Cydnee Morrisette were productive, too. Sasha had one extremely difficult diving dig on what turned out to be a Science Hill point that gave the Lady ‘Toppers a 12-10 lead in the decisive game.
“I’m very proud of them,” Lady Indians coach Wendy Baker said. “I felt like they played hard. Science Hill played great. I mean, they played absolutely wonderful and we played good.
“Tough loss. I hate it for them, because they worked so hard.”
There’s hard work ahead for Science Hill. Stallworth said trying to beat South is like trying to climb Mt. Everest.
But who knows, the steep, uphill battle against D-B didn’t deter the Lady ‘Toppers.