First-year Broughton coach Jim Freeman said he knew Tuesday’s state semifinal matchup against J.H. Rose would be another tough one.
Broughton, the top seed in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East region, had already been tested throughout the playoffs, but the Caps fell one match shy of the state finals Tuesday. Rose rebounded after being dominated in the first set to top previously undefeated Broughton 3-2.
“I knew this is what it was going to be,” Freeman said. “It was going to be a brutal, back-and-forth affair, and they squeezed it out.”
About a hundred fans traveled from Greenville to Raleigh to see the Rampants take on Broughton. Rose coach Norman Cabacar likened the atmosphere to the state finals, a stage with which the Rampants are familiar and will visit again Saturday to take on West Regional winner Providence for the NCHSAA 4A title.
Broughton (20-1, 14-0 Cap Eight) came out firing, easily taking the first set 25-11, but Rose didn’t give in. In the end, it was Rose that took advantage of Broughton errors to go on a 4-1 run to win the final set 15-11 and advance.
Cabacar told his team to put the first set behind them and not give into nerves. In the first set, Rose had tried to run a different rotation than it had all year in an attempt to create more offense, but the Rampants went back to the sets they were used to running in the second set. More comfortable in its game, Rose came alive.
The Rampants (25-1) led for much of the second set and went on to win the next two sets by scores of 26-24.
“(In the first set), we were in system; They weren’t. They were not comfortable; We were. Then they got comfortable,” Freeman said. “We stopped following our game plan a little bit as far as who we wanted to serve, and still we had our chances at the end of that (second) set, we were tied and we kind of blew it.”
In the third set, Broughton led 23-17 before Rose stormed back led by Caroline Kuhn, who finished with a match-high 24 kills. The Rampants closed the set on a 9-2 run to take control of the match, 2-1.
“Again it’s about control and sticking with what you have to do to be successful, and we skipped the track,” Freeman said. “They’re a loaded team. They’re really good, so the margin of error is nothing.”
Still, the Caps rallied on their home court in an attempt to keep their season alive. They had been down 2-1 in the second round of the tournament and rallied to advanced then.
Katja Ehlers, who led the Caps with 23 kills and 18 digs and four aces, and Kati Smith (29 assists, 20 digs and 9 kills) helped lead the Caps to a 25-22 win in the fourth set to send the match to a fifth and final set.
Cabacar said he felt Rose had been in a position to win the match in four sets once the Rampants came back to win the third set, but credited the Caps for not letting up and pushing the contest to the limit.
“They’re No. 1, and they’re that good because of the way they play,” Cabacar said. “I think the difference tonight was what team at the end did not have the unforced errors and did all the little things right.”
In the end, it was service errors and serve-receive errors against an unyielding Rampants team that doomed the Caps in the final set.
“They came all the way up here and played really well and really rebounded after that first set,” Freeman said. “They’re weren’t going to lay down and they didn’t. That’s what it should be. That’s what a region final should look like.”
Ryan Harr and Genna Simpkins contributed 26 assists and 20 digs, respectively, for the Caps. Taylor Britt and Maggie Rees added 24 assists and 17 digs, respectively, for Rose.
Broughton will lose four seniors, including 6-foot-3 outside hitter Adria Johnson, who finished with 13 kills. However, the Caps, who won their second straight Cap Eight conference title this season, will return a core of juniors who have helped turn around a program that won just three games in 2011, but Freeman doesn’t like to look at things in that perspective.
“This team is this team, and we’ll never have this team again,” he said. “But we had a really incredible year. ...You can’t ask for more from your kids. They gave it everything they had.”
Rose and Providence face off Saturday in the 4A finals at Noon at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.