Lincoln felt in control the entire night in its District 2AA semifinal match against Harrisburg. But it was the Tigers who came out on top in a five-set thriller, now just one win away from their first trip to the Class AA Tournament. The Tigers last appeared in a state tournament in 2008, finishing runner-up to Wagner in Class A.
The Tigers were able to gut out several long points in the final set to finally prevail 8-25, 27-25, 25-27, 25-16, 17-15. Harrisburg staved off a match point at 14-15 in the final set and scored the final three points to secure the victory.
“I love that my kids never say die,” Harrisburg coach Ronette Costain said. “They got the crapped kicked out of them in the first game and they came back and said, ‘Not in our house.’ “
After winning the opening set, Lincoln came out aggressive again in the second. They jumped out to a 7-1 lead and led 8-2 before Harrisburg rattled off six straight to tie it at 8-8. Lincoln held a set point at 24-23, but the Tigers showed their first signs of grit and dug in to pull out the second set.
“We just don’t fold,” Costain said. “We beat ourselves sometimes. We play tense and we don’t want to be the next one to make a mistake. We’re young, but they’re figuring it out. It usually takes us a game to get going.”
Despite Harrisburg winning the second set, Lincoln’s Anezka Szabo and Abbie Jarratt continued their barrage of kills at the net. Szabo led the Patriots with 15 kills while Jarratt had 10.
Harrisburg’s Rachel Nelson had her hands full on the back line for the Tigers, but the 14-year old freshman held her own digging out Szabo and Jarratt kill attempts. Nelson led the Tigers with 26 digs, some of which looked nearly impossible to continue the play.
“We really tried to stay focused. We really want to go to state, so we just stayed focused all night,” Nelson said. “I feel confident right now with our team. We’re communicating a lot better since the beginning of the year. We all have the same goal.”
After swapping the third and fourth sets, Lincoln again took control in the deciding fifth. The Patriots scored the first points in all five sets, and again jumped to an early lead in the fifth, opening a 3-0 lead. Lincoln led 12-9 and was close to closing it out before the Tigers scored five of the next six points to force a match point.
Lincoln scored to tie it at 14-14 and the Tigers took the lead 15-14 when Lincoln coach Emily Palmer used a timeout.
“Refuse to lose,” Costain said she told her team during that timeout. “You have to have the mindset that you’re going to pull through.”
Harrisburg entered the match as the District 2AA No. 1 seed with a record of 10-10, but the Tigers have gotten visibly better over the second half of the season, winning three of their last four against Yankton, Brookings and Pierre.
“Overall our fundamental skills have gotten better as the season has gone, and our trust as a team has gotten better as a team,” Costain said. “We’re more confident and we’re running more plays so we’re not so predictable.”
Sam Slaughter and McKenna Mathiesen led Harrisburg with 16 kills each. Haley Bruggeman added 12.