As Gilbert Highland was defeating Mesa in five games, Gilbert coach Jeff Grover kept his team in the locker room and away from the distraction.
It proved to be a smart move.
Gilbert surprised top seed Phoenix Desert Vista, 3-1 (25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 30-28) and will meet Highland at 7 p.m. Saturday in the state championship match, even playing as the visitor on its home court.
“It was really stressful, and I wasn’t sure if we were going to pull it off,” said Gilbert’s Nic Gibson, who scored the last point in the fourth game. “I had confidence in my team and knew we could pull it out.”
With the game tied at 28, Gibson and his teammate Jarrett Neal got a block at the net to go up 29-28.
After a short volley and several digs on both sides, Gibson finally got his chance to get the kill and it ended up being a huge point when his kill finally hit the home court.
“It’s always high stakes,” Gibson said, referring to the high score.
“Every point is important, and I have faith in my team to get through it, and we pulled it out.
“There is always revenge. They beat us three times, and we wanted to beat them when it counted and we certainly did that.”
In the first match of the night, Highland, which was led by the play of Ryan Morrison and Sean Chapman, withstood Mesa’s rally to win in five games, 19-25, 26-24, 25-21, 18-25, 15-10, and earn a trip to the championship.
“The ultimate goal was at hand,” said Morrison, who finished with 18 kills, 6.5 blocks and four aces.
“It’s state championship or not. We work so hard to win a (match) like that. We didn’t come here to lose.”
With a senior-laden team, Highland quickly showed it was poised not to lose after dropping the first game and quickly picked up the next two.
“We did have a little trouble serving, but we got back into the match,” said Morrison, referring to the team’s play in the first game.
“Our game plan was to just block because they were bigger than us, and we just had to go all out.”