Raiders 3 Cougars 2
The Lindsay Thurber Raiders nearly let it slip away.
With a 2-0 lead in their Central zone 4A senior boys volleyball sudden-death semifinal on Tuesday, the Raiders were clearly in the driver’s seat.
But the highway ahead was anything but smooth and the visiting Notre Dame Cougars stormed back to force a fifth and deciding set.
In the end, though, the Raiders prevailed 15-13 in the decisive set — ending the match on a kill by right side Scott Irvine — and will meet the Hunting Hills Lightning in a best-of-three zone final starting on Thursday at 8 p.m. at Hunting Hills.
The winner will advance to the provincial 4A championship tournament set for Nov. 23-24 at Lethbridge.
“Both teams played very well,” said Raiders coach Terence McMullen, following his squad’s 26-24, 25-23, 21-25, 22-25, 15-13 triumph.
“Notre Dame is a tough team and it’s unfortunate that we have to start eliminating teams in the Central zone.
“They’re a really strong team and they battled right to the last point. We would get up on them and they wouldn’t die, they would battle right back.
“Definitely kudos to them and to my boys as well. Notre Dame played well in those tight third and fourth sets and we maybe didn’t execute as well as we could, but in that fifth set we got ourselves back together and played a strong 15 points.”
The Raiders trailed 9-7 in the fifth set when McMullen called a timeout that clearly sparked his troops.
And what exactly was his message?
“Trust our system, just pass the ball . . . take a swing,” said the Raiders coach.
“That’s what we’ve been doing all year, just passing the ball and taking swings when we can. At the end we did the most with our transition balls, those out of system balls. But they (Cougars) scored good points too.”
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they didn’t score enough points when it mattered the most, and the 2-0 deficit in games was too much to overcome, although barely.
“We let go of a couple of leads and lost (each of) the first couple of sets by two points,” said Notre Dame coach AJ Mahoney. “But you can’t go back. Obviously Lindsay Thurber found a way to win, so good on them.”
Mahoney had more profound words of praise for his own players.
“At the beginning of the season we were kind of the underdogs and for us to come back tonight and show that we could have been there (the zone final) . . . I’m so impressed with my guys, I really am. They played their hearts out and gave it 100 per cent. Sometimes you lose.”
The second game of the zone final will be played on Friday at Lindsay Thurber, with a 6 p.m. start. A fifth game, if necessary, will go on Saturday at Hunting Hills with a tentative start time of 1 p.m.