OTTAWA — You can feel good about yourself when you take the opposing team's best, hard-hit shots one after another and come back with a potent punch or two of your own.
However, it's a killer when that foe can also score with a few softer, well-placed jabs as well.
The Ottawa High School volleyball squad, seeded seventh in their sectional, stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out with No. 4-seeded Moline on Tuesday night and very nearly scored a knockdown in an agonizingly-close opening set, until the powerful Maroons tipped its way to a comeback win. The visitors then used a seven-point service run from Bella Mitchell to take control right away in the second game, sending them to a 27-25, 25-16 topping of the Class 4A regional host Lady Pirates here in Kingman Gym.
OHS (10-24) had only one instance in the first game in which it scored three straight points (sideout and two service points), and that came late, opening up a 22-19 advantage. However, Moline used the last of its two such bursts to knot the score and eventually got the winning kill from Molly Tauke to change the momentum of the match.
Moline (27-7-1) will now take on an old nemesis, No. 1-seeded Normal, in Thursday's 6 p.m. title tilt in Kingman. The Ironmen bested Rock Island 25-12, 25-13 in the night's first semifinal.
"Anytime you make a team's defense move and come out of their system, that's how you win volleyball games, and that's what they did in that first set," said Ottawa coach Jenn Crum. "I wish we would have had another couple points on them when it came down to that, but it was a great match all-around for us. ...
"One of the things we've been working on very hard is not to let the other team go off on a run against us, and we were able to nip that in the first game. We didn't see six-, seven-, eight-point runs that we've seen at times this season, and the work on that showed tonight. The girls just shut that down.
"And then it happened in the second," she said with a smile and a shake of her head, "but the girls kept fighting and battled back. It's hard to see the season end, but I'm very pleased with the effort the girls gave. We got contributions from everyone, and that's important."
Ottawa's blocking forced the Maroons to alter their hitting, causing many of their strong hits to go wide or deep out of bounds, while the ones that did stay in were ably handled by the defense, led by Jazzy Bowman. Neither team had more than a two-point edge until back-to-back kills by Jenna Nink and a couple of MHS errors gave the home team that 22-19 lead.
But later, a kill and ace by Mitchell turned the see-saw advantage to the Moline side, and after ties at 22, 23 (on a Jenna Nink kill), 24 and 25 (on a Gracyn Tabor spike), Tauke's blast ended it.
That seemed to free up the Maroons offense, as three kills by Kiya Ritchie (10 kills) and two by Alannah Crompton (six kills) sent Mitchell on the decisive set-opening rally. Another four-pointer by Lacey McMillion opened up a 13-3 lead that Ottawa could only whittle to seven later in the set.
"We're a really offensive-minded team, and in the first set we were making a lot of aggressive errors, I think 16 unforced errors in that game," said Moline coach Mike Ducey. "Ottawa played great, very spirited here on their home floor, but we told the girls, 'Look, we hit so many hard balls, they're playing pretty far back defensively,' so if we could tip balls to the wing or to 'the donut,' 'the campfire' (center of the defense), that we could have some success with that, and that worked. We had to take them out of rhythm, because we were like hit hard, hit hard, hit hard, and we needed to change that up.
"After that, we relaxed and got that big service run at the start of the second set, and that helped us relax even more."