When DeWitt was poised to take Okemos to a fifth game, the Chiefs rose up to take a Class A district title on Saturday and continue their season.
Trailing 23-18 after the Panthers won seven of eight points, Okemos rallied back to win 25-23 in the fourth game and close out DeWitt at Grand Ledge High School.
“Thursday night when we played Grand Ledge, it was a five-game or five-set match and we had that kind of up and down the whole entire match,” Okemos coach Jamie Ianni said. “I think that experience of having been in that pressure situation so close, it was just two days ago, I think it helped the kids. I just kept reminding them ‘you’ve got to be the hunters.’ “
For Okemos, the focus was on DeWitt senior middle hitter Kaylee Schmitt.
While Schmitt was able to get kills, Okemos (29-12-5), countered nicely at the net with an array of players, most notably junior Lizzy Ballor, who led the Chiefs with five blocks along with 17 kills.
“For me, it’s really fun to have a tall middle because it kind of challenges you to actually go for it,” Ballor said. “What I was doing was I was spreading my hands apart … to take the angle away rather than just having them hit the middle. When you’re older you get trained to hit corners rather than straight on, so you’ve got to adjust.”
Ianni said lineup changes were made.
“We had another junior blocker, Jessica Richards, blocking her in game one and we won that game so we didn’t change it, and then we lost game two so I decided to change it and put in Lizzy,” Ianni said.
“Lizzy’s a very superb jumper and she has pretty good timing. I thought she did a really good job of neutralizing (Schmitt), and while she did that she also gave us some offense, so I think that was key for our success in those last two games.”
Ballor scored the winning point for Okemos in the first game before DeWitt rebounded with Schmitt leading the way in the second.
Schmitt accounted for five of the Panthers’ first seven points as DeWitt jumped out to a 7-2 lead and later finished a 25-20 win in game two with a kill.
The Chiefs started fast in the third game, jumping out to a 6-1 lead before Schmitt and DeWitt rallied again. Two Schmitt kills brought the score in the third game to 11-10 and the Panthers would tie it at 12-12. Ballor finished things off for Okemos with a kill to put the Chiefs up 24-18 and a block to give them a 25-21 win.
In the fourth, Okemos charge back with two Ballor kills to tie the score at 23. Ballor’s next kill gave the Chiefs a 25-23 win to capture the match.
Okemos will play Grand Rapids Christian in a Class A regional semifinal on Tuesday.
Senior Jess Bauer added 16 kills for Okemos, while senior Berkleigh Brogan had 50 assists and two aces.
Schmitt had 22 kills and seven blocks to lead DeWitt.