By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- With Sherando trailing by eight points to Millbrook in the decisive fifth set of Tuesday's match, and the Pioneers threatening to beat the Warriors for the first time since 2008, something kicked in for the Warriors.
Powered by a rock solid performance from the service line by junior Erica Scully and senior Blair Adams late in the final set, Sherando stormed back to erase the deficit. The Warriors scored 13 of the final 15 points in the game to win the fifth set and grab a thrilling 3-2 (25-21, 21-25, 25-13, 19-25, 15-12) Northwestern District victory.
"I think we were on our toes and we were more ready than we were before. We kind of saw the game flash before our eyes and finally realized what we needed to do," Adams said.
Millbrook, riding the momentum of a big win in the fourth set to force a fifth and deciding game, started off the final set with a 5-0 run sparked by three kills by sophomore Imani Major.
Warriors coach Chuck Ashby was forced to use a timeout in an attempt to cool off the hot hitting Pioneers, but Millbrook continued to build its lead to 10-2 out of the break behind a pair of aces by Major.
Then things began to shift dramatically.
A Pioneers service error cued a 9-1 run for Sherando in a stint that saw Scully serve six straight points -- including two aces -- to tie the set at 11-all. A service error by Scully gave Millbrook a 12-11 advantage, but the Warriors took that point right back on a kill by Melissa Marshall.
Adams then stepped to the service line to take care of the rest, as she delivered back-to-back aces followed by a block by Marshall that gave the Warriors (9-8, 4-3 Northwestern) the win.
"I was just trying to get the ball over the net and in," said Adams, who finished the match with four aces. "At the end of the game I'm just going with my safe serve, and lucky for me, it was good enough."
The thrilling finish was fitting for a game that was competitive throughout, as neither side could seem to completely swing momentum one way or the other.
Sherando started the night with a 25-21 victory in a tightly contested first set in which Millbrook (3-10, 1-5) erased a 20-13 deficit to pull within one point before the Warriors came through late behind kills by Mackenzie Cornwell and Kelsey Singhas. The duo combined for nine kills in the set to lead Sherando.
Millbrook rallied to take the second set as the Pioneers' offense showed life, smashing 14 kills in the set, including four apiece from Major and Ashley Humphrey and three more from sophomore Taylor Linder.
"They definitely have that competitive drive now," Pioneers coach Ashley Sutphin said. "They're working together and they have the motivation to succeed and want to do that. They're communicating and they're moving their feet. Everything's starting to click and they keep continuing to improve. That's all I can ask."
The Warriors won convincingly in the third set and appeared to have all of the momentum heading into the fourth game, but the Pioneers fended off elimination behind a 10-kill effort by Linder in the fourth game.
Linder finished the night with a match-high 23 kills.
"I was really impressed with [Linder]. It just seemed like whenever they got the ball to their setter and the setter could get the ball to her, she was hitting it," Ashby said.
Cornwell led the Warriors with 12 kills, while Singhas tallied 11 before leaving the match late in the third set for precautionary reasons after tweaking something in her leg. Scully finished with five aces for Sherando.
Major added 12 kills for Millbrook, while Humphrey finished with 10 kills and six blocks.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org