It seemed that Arundel might give up its second big lead of the night to South River for a few minutes toward the end of the fourth, this time to send the battle for top dog in the Maryland 4A East Region to a fifth set.
But the Wildcats stymied the late run, and on Mackenzie Meehan’s 16th kill of the game, clinched the East Region for the second straight year.
“We had a really solid night,” coach Ashley Yuscavage said. “At points we struggled with our serving, that’s when we had our down periods, but other than that I think our all-around game was really solid.”
The Wildcats (18-0) took the match, 26-24, 25-21, 22-25, 25-23. After a highly competitive first three sets, it looked like they were going to cruise to victory in the fourth after taking a 21-13 lead.
Nine plays later, the Arundel lead was 22-21.
“We knew that (South River) would come out strong,” Yuscavage said. “That’s the type of team they are and we just had to get back to doing our thing. We struggled with serving in the third, and so I think that was the difference (winning the fourth).
The Seahawks at times looked like the dominant team in the match. In a very close third, their lone set victory, the Wildcats managed to tie 11 times, but never once took the lead.
“(I told them) to keep hitting,” South River coach Maureen Carter said of her message to the team during the third. “Keep playing our kind of ball. We had to keep hitting hard at them. That’s what we do well, because they have really good defense.”
Defense ultimately bailed out the Wildcats to keep the Seahawks at bay. Libero Nia Smith had 19 digs and outside hitter Chyna Gubbings contributed 10 digs. Smith also had a run of successful serves in the fourth that set up the Wildcats’ commanding lead, which they needed all of to hold off the surging Seahawks.
“I think Nia’s serving run (in the fourth) was spectacular,” setter Alicia Eldredge, who had three aces and 42 assists on the night, said. “It was everything we needed and she really stepped up when we needed it.”
Gubbings had 11 kills and Brooke Watts had 10 kills for the Wildcats, who only served 88.7 percent as a team.
Watts was a clear crowd favorite, and after nearly every kill, chants of “She’s a freshman!” filled the arena. She had a few key kills in the second to stop South River, who at one point rallied from six points down to take a two-point lead.
“When we came back in (the second), we were down on ourselves, but we came out of it from the timeout and we knew what we had to do to succeed,” Watts said.
Emily Speciale served 18-19 with two aces and six digs, Samanta Tarabella served 9-11 with 20 kills and 16 digs and outside hitter Savannah Doctor served 14-15 with 11 kills, 12 digs and one ace for the Seahawks, who finish their season at 12-4.
Arundel will face South Region champion Eleanor Roosevelt in the state semifinals.