In a game full of emotion and tension, No. 3 seed Broughton weathered the storm on the road at No. 2 seed Cardinal Gibbons and earned a dramatic 3-2 win over the Crusaders (11-25, 25-23, 25-20, 19-25, 15-10) in front of a lively crowd on Saturday night to move on to the quarterfinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A volleyball playoffs.
After leading two games to one, Broughton (21-1) allowed Gibbons (21-8) to force a decisive fifth set, which the Crusaders held a two-point lead in (10-8). But the Caps turned it on right after that, though, and finished the game on 7-2 run to keep their postseason alive.
The win comes one year after Broughton saw its season end with a loss to Gibbons in the quarterfinals.
The Caps will travel to face No. 1 seed D.H. Conley in Greenville on Tuesday.
Saturday’s loss means that Cardinal Gibbons’ run of seven consecutive state titles – six of which came at the 3A level – is now over. It is just the second time the Crusaders have lost in the NCHSAA playoffs since re-joining the association in 2005 (66-2 overall) and first time Gibbons won’t be playing in the championship game.
“I’m happy for our kids. Any match like that you always feel for the other team,” said Broughton coach Jim Freeman, who previously coached at Gibbons from 1991-2009. “They played great. They had a great season.”
By Freeman’s standards, the Caps played “terrible” and “were too emotional” at the beginning of the night. The Crusaders dominated the opening set, and held a 14-10 advantage in the second game.
Needing to mount a comeback to avoid falling behind by two games, Broughton did just that, but it wasn’t easy.
After setter Claire Sawyer suffered a sprained ankle in the first set, Freeman was forced to adjust, and inserted Holli Smith, who normally plays as a defensive specialist, into that role.
Despite playing out of position, Smith brought upon a sense of calmness to Broughton, which subsequently came from behind in the second frame, and looked dominant in the third set.
“Holli Smith stepping in to set was great,” Freeman said. “She was very tough mentally, very composed. That helped us calm down. The fact that she was calm, and doing a nice job … she was right at the top of the list in terms of real difference makers for us.”
Admittedly, Smith was nervous when she was had to fill in for Sawyer in a win-or-go home scenario. But once she got settled in, she was fine.
“I was just praying, ‘cause it’s been a couple years since I set,” Smith said. “But I grew up setting, my mom was a setter, so it’s kind of natural for me now. I just had a lot of help tonight. It was good. (My teammates) made it easy on me.”
The Crusaders, who had defeated Millbrook and J.H. Rose in straight sets in the first two rounds, would not go down without a fight.
Thanks to a strong performance by outside hitter Delaney Hahn, and quality serving down the stretch from defensive specialist Avery Bugg, Gibbons earned a six-point win in the fourth set, and looked poised to complete its comeback when it led by two in the final set.
That’s when things went awry.
“I think we were kind of expecting them to just go roll over and die,” Gibbons coach Logan Barber said. “They didn’t do that. They fought hard, and we were kind of hoping it would go our way as opposed to making it go our way.”
Freeman said his team was fortunate to come out as winners against the Crusaders, and things won’t get any easier for the Caps, who will have to put this win behind them quickly before preparing for Conley, which is unbeaten.
“They’re not undefeated for nothing. So, it’ll be a tough match,” Freeman said.