Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
LOGAN — Just before Saturday’s final serve, Wheelersburg junior Lauren Jolly wiped a tear away from her eye and flashed an ear-to-ear smile.
Jolly knew what the moment meant. History was about to happen.
“I just remember crying and thinking, ‘We’re really going to do this.’ I was just so happy,” Jolly said. “We have worked for that moment all year long.”
But “that moment” almost never happened and in fact, maybe it shouldn’t have.
At one point, the Pirates had dropped the first two sets to Berlin Hiland in a Division III regional championship match and they found themselves down 24-23 in the third.
All signs pointed to the end of the road.
But with their season on life support, Wheelersburg chose to take a detour.
“We knew we just had to keep pushing and, if we didn’t, that was it,” Jolly said. “So it was all or nothing. We gave it our all.”
A LOOK AT WHEELERSBURG’S TOURNEY RUN
Wheelersburg’s “never say die” attitude came to life. The Pirates scored the next three points, winning 26-24 to force a fourth set.
It was the turning point in the most improbable of comeback victories, it shifted the pendulum of moment and, ultimately, it led to a 19-25, 19-25, 26-24, 25-20, 15-5 victory — which marked the program’s first-ever regional title.
“The win just means so much,” junior Kaylee Darnell said. “We made history again. First, we won 70 sets in a row. Now, we’ve made it to the Final Four. That’s never happened before. So doing it means a whole lot to us. We did it for our seniors.”
Darnell touched on something that drew a lot of focus coming into the day. Wheelersburg (27-0) brought a 73-set win streak into the match. But after the first go-around with Hiland (26-2), that was gone.
The Pirates didn’t seem to care too much.
“Nope, I don’t care at all,” Jolly said, smiling.
In that first set loss, Hiland used a combination of Madison Yoder at the service line, Nikole Keim at the net and an 8-0 run to take a 14-6 lead. The Pirates answered with a run of their own, eventually cutting the lead to 18-16.
But the Hawks ended the sequence with a 7-3 run to win 25-19, snapping the aforementioned streak.
“[Coach Allen Perry] just told us to keep fighting and not to give in,” Jolly said. “He told us we just had to keep pushing and working hard. We knew we did not want to lose.”
Even so, the Hawks kept swinging in the second.
After playing neck-and-neck through the first 20 serves, tied 10-10, Hiland took a 17-14 edge. Then, once again, the Hawks pulled away for a 25-19 win.
Wheelersburg, down 2-0, started better in the third. But after Kylee Barney forced Hiland into a timeout with a kill that gave the Pirates a 13-9 lead, the Hawks battled back to force a 19-19 tie before taking a 23-20 lead.
That’s when the magic started.
Barney logged a kill and a block on back-to-back plays just before Mallory Bergan sent a ball to the floor to force a 23-23 tie. Hiland then went ahead 24-23 before Bergan took matters into her own hands, pounding two consecutive kills to seal a 26-24 win … one that will live in Wheelersburg folklore forever.
The Pirates used the momentum gained to start the fourth with a 13-6 lead. They stretched that advantage to 21-13 before the Hawks went on a 7-3 run to make things closer at 24-20.
But any chance of a complete comeback was negated when Bergan’s number was called again. She gave the Pirates a 25-20 win and evened the match 2-2.
In the fifth, Bergan and Barney combined to put Wheelersburg in front 9-4. It was then Alli McQuay and Ryleigh Meeker’s turn to make a difference as the duo led a 5-1 run, making it 14-5.
It was then when Jolly felt history creeping onto the Pirates’ bench.
The serve went over the net, Hiland sent the ball back and Meeker put a cap on the most unlikely, most important and … what could be … the most celebrated victory in program history.
“I’m so proud of my team,” Boggs said postgame. “Like, I can’t even believe we’re going to the state tournament. I’m looking forward to working hard in practice this week. We’re going to try and go as far as we can.”
After another earned week of practice, Wheelersburg will meet with Independence in a Division III state semifinal at noon, Thursday at Wright State University.
The Blue Devils swept Mantua Crestwood Saturday. They’ll enter Thursday’s match at 24-4 overall and as the Division’s No. 4 ranked team.
“The experience is going to be crazy,” Darnell said. “It’ll be something we’ve never done before. We just have to go in there, come with a fight like we did today and we’ll be fine.”