LaGRANGE — Buckeye and Bay Village Bay have been on a collision course since the first day of the 2009 volleyball season.
Impact between the state-ranked squads finally came on Thursday night — and it was an incredible sight.
The Bucks rallied from an 11-3 deficit in the final game in the LaGrange Keystone Division II District championship, then stunned the Rockets by completing a 25-15, 18-25, 23-25, 25-20, 16-14 victory.
“That last game showed how much heart and determination these ladies have,” Buckeye coach Brianne Indorf said as she choked back tears. “It’s an emotional night, but a great night. To see all of the girls come through the way they did was very special.”
The Bucks (23-2), who were making their district final debut, advance to the Stow Regional, where they will face Jefferson Area District champ Mentor Lake Catholic on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
And they’ll do so knowing they pulled off one of the most improbable triumphs in OHSAA Tournament rally scoring history, having trailed 7-1, 9-2 and 11-3 in the decisive fifth game.
“I looked in the stands and still heard the crowd chanting, ‘Yes, we can,’ when we fell behind big,” said junior outside hitter Samantha Mueller, who had a career-high 18 kills and 21 digs. “That’s exactly what I told the girls. Yes, we can do this.”
A pair of errors by Bay (23-2) started its collapse, which Buckeye senior Marah Farage expedited in an unexpected manner.
Middle blocker Farage (match-high 22 kills, 17 digs) took the serve with the Rockets leading 13-7 and promptly scored seven straight points. A kill/block by sophomore Erin Leneghan added fuel to the run, which also included a rare out-of-rotation call against the Rockets that tied the game at 13-13.
It then became Mueller Time. She provided the kill to make it 14-13, scored again after a Bucks error to put them back up 15-14, then delivered the biggest play in school history with a two-handed push shot down the left sideline to end the match.
“Sam looked at me at the end and said, ‘This is for you seniors,’ which really meant a lot,” said Farage, who also made six blocks and 17 digs. “To have her say that and the awesome crowd we had here behind us, it gave us momentum that we never wanted to end.”
While Mueller and Farage took over at crunch time, 14th-ranked Buckeye wouldn’t have been in that position if not for some tremendous work in the fourth game from senior middle hitter Nicole Wurstle (19 kills, career-high 11 blocks) and senior setter Kara Joyce (50 assists).
The next-to-last game featured 12 ties in the first 16 points before Wurstle took it over by rejecting eight Bay spike attempts. She also scored the Bucks’ final three points on kills following blocks, saving the squad’s season in grand style.
“We knew we could push back because this team has total heart and determination,” said Wurstle, who had to battle an asthma attack during the epic comeback. “To be a part of it was very exciting and everyone did an awesome job.”
Bay, which was ranked 12th in the final state coaches’ poll, got 21 kills from junior Marissa Radick, 20 kills and four blocks from senior Sarah Vick, and 13 kills and seven rejections from sophomore Rachel Vick. Setter Bridget Doughty added 51 assists.
“It was a very, very good fight on both sides of the net tonight,” Rockets coach Tony Tahan said. “In the end, they definitely outplayed us. I’m disappointed, of course, to lose, but Buckeye should be very proud of themselves to win the way they did.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.