Apex never caved in its second-round loss to Broughton volleyball, even after surrendering a convincing lead in the third set.
The Cougars fought their way to an eventual eight-point advantage before the Capitals gathered themselves and pressed out a 3-0 (25-18, 25-19, 25-20) win in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
The Capitals (21-0) managed to erase the large deficit, and the stand-up effort by Broughton senior Tiana Butler down the stretch was hard to miss.
The 5-foot-9 middle blocker and outside hitter didn’t lead with kills, but the five she did throw down were always timely. She and her sophomore teammate Grace Youngblood led the match with four blocks, using a couple in the third set to pull away.
“She does so many things that you don’t notice unless you’re looking,” Broughton coach Jim Freeman said of Butler. “She’s really a smooth, quality player all the way around. She’s not loud. She really is kind of an anchor, or rock, that you can use to build around. She is a calm presence for us. We’d be in a lot of trouble without her.”
She’s really good.
Broughton coach Jim Freeman on Tiana Butler
A Butler kill lightened the Capitals’ third-set hole to six. The senior turned and gave her libero, sophomore Alden Willis, affirmation following the good pass that led to the point.
Butler’s ace put Broughton two points behind, and a long volley ended with another one of her kills to break 20.
“We just worked together, and we talked to each other on the court,” said Butler, who added two assists for good measure. One went to senior setter Kati Smith when Smith switched and gave digging a try for a couple of plays in the second set.
“We had to make sure that we stay together as a team,” Butler continued. “We can’t let anybody get down.”
Broughton junior Kalee Vanderhorst led the Apex match with 15 kills, followed on her team by Butler with five. Katja Ehlers and Rachel Byrd added four apiece for the top-seeded Broughton. Ehlers led the Capitals with 11 digs.
Through the first 20 points of the match, Smith had only set up Vanderhorst.
Byrd was the next to get a kill for Broughton, when the Caps took a 21-16 lead in the first set.
“We were too emotional from the beginning. We were not playing our normal style,” Freeman said. “Our serve-receive went really, way south, so we couldn’t really run (our offense). We just weren’t composed. It’s hard to play good volleyball when you’re not composed.”
Broughton will host Cap-8 mate Leesville Road in a third-round match Thursday. The winner of that game will play the winner of the Cardinal Gibbons-Jack Britt series.
Gibbons is Freeman’s former team and the East’s No. 5 seed, and the two clubs may be slowly making their way toward meeting in the 4A playoff bracket.
“No, no, no, no,” Freeman said about whether his team discusses the possibility of playing the Crusaders. “It’s literally one match at a time. Everybody plays really good. We couldn’t afford looking past and we were not looking past Apex, I guarantee that.
“No, we haven’t even talked about it at all.”
Gibbons has won the last six 3A titles and is playing its first season in 4A.
A year ago, Broughton was eliminated in five sets by Greenville Rose, the eventual 2014 champion, in the Eastern Regional round.
“It’s really exciting,” Butler said after the second-round win. “We’re excited to go and play whoever we come up against. We’re going to play as hard as we did tonight, and we’ll be ready.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan