TUMWATER — It was a postseason-like atmosphere inside the Tumwater auxiliary gym on Thursday, and the Black Hills-R.A. Long first-round matchup did not disappoint.
The Wolves and Lumberjacks went the distance in a thrilling back-and-forth affair, and Black Hills came away with a 25-17, 26-28, 25-17, 15-25, 15-10 victory to advance to the district semifinals.
After R.A. Long came back to force a decisive fifth set, the Wolves’ came out strong in the final set, racing out to a 6-2 lead to regain momentum.
As they had throughout the game, the Lumberjacks stormed back, going on a 6-3 run of their own to get within one, but the Wolves responded with four straight points to open up a 13-8 lead.
Ellie Johnson came away with the game’s final kill, one that sparked a raucous celebration from the Black Hills student section that made the trip across town and made their rivals’ auxiliary court into one of the loudest gyms the Wolves have played in this season.
With the win, the Wolves are now off until Saturday, as they avoided having to play a loser-out game immediately following the five-set match.
“We needed to win that game just to make Saturday easier for us,” Black Hills coach Karlee Sampson said. “Winning this and staying out of that bottom bracket going into Saturday is really nice.”
It was anything but easy for the Wolves, as the Lumberjacks kept the ball off the floor and forced long rallies throughout the night. Sampson was pleased with the way the Wolves stuck with it, noting that defensively they were able to perform at a similarly high level.
“We just never gave up on the ball,” Sampson said. “They have awesome defense and they’re a scrappy little team, but I think tonight we showed that we have that as well.”
Four Wolves finished with 10 or more digs, led by Madison Malone, who had 14.
Offensively, the Wolves leaned on 2A EvCo MVP Ashley Harris, who had 23 kills, but she wasn’t the only hitter who came through. Setter Lilly Kincaid was also sure to get Claire and Ellie Johnson involved, and the two combined for 20 kills.
“We split the ball up a lot,” Sampson said. “I think that kept them on their toes and guessing who’s getting the ball.”
Sampson commended both Johnson sisters, noting that Claire has stepped up consistently throughout the season as an offensive option alongside Harris, while Ellie has “come into her own” over the last few weeks.
“I’m really proud of them,” Sampson said.
Harris and Johnson weren’t just solid on the offensive end, as they each had 10-plus digs as well. Kincaid finished the game with 42 assists. Anneliese Dale was also all over the floor defensively, digging 11 balls.
Looking ahead, the Wolves will face a daunting test in unbeaten Columbia River in the semifinals on Saturday at 11 a.m., but it won’t be a loser-out game.
If they win, they clinch a state bid and advance to the district title game, while if lose, they’ll get a second shot at securing a state bid in the lower bracket at 1 p.m.