In a competitive match-up between two top teams, the line between victory and defeat can be quite slim.
In their Division III state semifinal match-up with Tuscarawas Valley Friday at Wright State’s Nutter Center in Dayton, Highland won the first set 25-19 and had legitimate chances to take both the second and third, as well, which would have given them a 3-0 win and ticket to the state finals.
However, the Trojans battled back from deficits in both games to take a 2-1 lead and then held off a late Scot comeback in the third to end Highland’s season with a 27-2 record. In the second game, TV fought back from an 18-16 deficit and then trailed 22-21 before winning. The third-game loss was even rougher for the Scots to overcome, as they led 24-22 with the ball before surrendering four straight points.
“That was kind of the situation also in the second,” said Highland coach Rob Terrill when asked about the end of the third. “We were ahead 18-16 and couldn’t put it away. I think we were fighting ourselves a bit. It comes down to a play here or there. We finish a couple plays and we’re still playing now.”
Enough of those plays were made by the Scots in the first game to give them the early advantage over Tuscarawas Valley. One point by Taylor Belcher and three from Ashton Terrill staked Highland to an early 7-2 lead. It wouldn’t be an easy task to put away the Trojans, though, as they rallied to tie the score at eight after getting two points each from Kayla Hall and Jenna Franks.
A defensive stop and three points from Parker Steck gave Highland the lead again, but they would not be able to pull away, as the Trojans were able to fight back and tie the score at 16. The game would remain deadlocked until, with the score 19-18 in favor of the Scots, they got five straight points from Krista Walters to get one point away from the win.
While TV got a defensive stop, Highland immediately got a defensive point via an errant serve to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Rob Terrill noted that his team, which was stopped in the regional finals in two of the past three years, wasn’t intimidated in their first appearance in the Final Four.
“We got here early this morning and watched the first match at noon,” he said. “I felt we had to do that for the atmosphere, but I felt they weren’t in awe of it. I thought our kids handled it well, coming down to state for the first time and playing against a 26-1 team.”
The second game was another back-and-forth contest where neither team could maintain the advantage. Highland got the first offensive point on a serve by Belcher, but TV rallied with two from Sage Peters. The Scots regained the lead with four points served by Terrill, but the Trojans jumped in front 11-8 after Hall tallied five points.
Highland’s defense then took control, getting a stop and then holding Tuscarawas Valley scoreless on their next five serve attempts. Both Steck and Belcher scored once during this span and Terrill added two to give the Scots an 18-16 lead. Two points from Hall would lead to the score being tied at 19, though.
While Highland regained a 22-21 lead after Bailey Santo tallied a point, they would not be able to finish off the set. A defensive stop and two points from Kierrah Stewart put the Trojans at game point. The Scots got a defensive stop, but could not score on offense to fall 25-23 and knot the match at one game each.
“They mixed it up an awful lot,” said Rob Terrill of TV’s offense. “They have really good ball control and they were very good at hitting a certain spot. I felt Tuscarawas Valley did a good job of picking us apart defensively. We played well defensively; they were just a little better offensively.”
The third game was more of the same between the two clubs. Highland’s defense started out with five straight stops, while both Terrill and Walters scored once, giving the Scots an early 7-5 lead. However, three points from Samantha Pruett took that advantage away and both teams were locked in another extended struggle.
The Trojans were able to take a 16-13 lead, but Highland rallied with a defensive stop and then got five points from Steck to jump in front 19-16. Another point from Santo made it 21-17, but TV got points from Stewart and Peters to close within a 23-22 margin.
A defensive stop gave the Scots game point, but they would not be able to convert and the Trojans made them pay with three straight from Hall to take a 2-1 lead in the contest.
Highland took an early lead in the fourth set, as Santo scored on the opening serve, but the Trojans jumped in front and looked like they would cruise to the win. One point from Clara Ackerman and four from Peters staked them to an 8-3 lead.
The Scots would stay in striking distance thanks to two points each from Terrill and Steck, but couldn’t catch up to their opponents, who mustered enough points to stay five points ahead at 16-11. Leading 19-14, TV got three points from Hall to be on the verge of clinching the match, but Highland refused to surrender.
With the score 23-16, they got two points from Steck to close within five. Then, facing elimination at 24-19, Santo scored three straight points to bring her team within two points before the Trojan were able to close out the game and match.
Terrill finished with 16 kills, 29 digs and two aces, while Raina Terry had a team-high 18 kills. Belcher added 19 assists and 11 digs and Steck tallied 16 assists and 12 digs. Bridget Oder led the team with 24 digs, while Santo contributed 12 more.
Rob Terrill noted after the match that he was pleased with the support of both the community and Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference opponents this year, while praising his senior class (Belcher, Terrill, Kelsey Walters and Katie Coffee) for some stellar accomplishments during their four years with the program.
“They had 102 wins in four years and all at least dressed as freshmen,” he said. “This is the group that pushed us through to state. I told the juniors that they’re up and they’re seniors now. They might really be juniors, but for us, they’ve started their senior year now.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS