College Park - Perryville's run to a girls volleyball state title ended Thursday night. The Panthers were beaten, 3-0, by undefeated Fort Hill in a Class 1A state semifinal played at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum. The scores were 25-12, 25-19 and 25-17.
"Well, unfortunately things didn't go the way we had hoped tonight, but the way we played, I couldn't be more proud of the girls," Matt Borelli, Perryville's first year head coach, said.
The Panthers fell behind, 3-0, to begin the first set, but rallied behind the play of senior outside hitter Emily Merklinger. Merklinger's three kills allowed the Panthers to stay close early, but the Fort Hill lead quickly grew to 15-7, forcing Borelli to call timeout.
Out of the timeout, Fort Hill increased its lead to 22-12, forcing another Perryville timeout. The Sentinels scored the next three to close out the set.
"I wasn't surprised, just wanted to swing hard and be aggressive," Merklinger said. "Go out swinging if this is how it had to end." Merklinger led the Panthers with 13 kills.
The Panthers rode the early serves of senior Morgan Tennant (two aces) to take a 5-0 lead in set two. Net play from Merklinger and Jillian Miller was also key to the Panthers keeping the set close.
"I think we all worked together very well, we're like a little family and even though we're down, we just keep fighting and we don't give up," Miller said.
Fort Hill battled back and the set was tied, 7-7, 9-9 and 11-11, before Fort Hill started to pull away.
The Panthers trailed, 16-14, on Tennant's third ace of the set, but Fort Hill went ahead, 23-18, a short time later on a Haley Wolfe ace.
The Panthers added a point coming out of another timeout, but two hitting errors provided Fort Hill with the final two points.
The final set saw the Panthers fall behind, 19-11, but there was no quit. Rachel Bell (one ace) served the Panthers back to within three, 19-16, which forced Fort Hill to call its lone timeout of the match.
The Sentinels then closed the match on a 6-1 run, with the final point coming on a Perryville net violation.
Merklinger finished with one block, eight digs and 13 points. Tennant added four kills, 15 assists, six digs and seven points. Miller finished with one block.
Fort Hill's big hitter, Sarah Lowery, also had 13 kills and 17 points. Both teams had eight serving errors and Fort Hill had a 13-4 advantage serving aces.
The Panthers, participants in three straight state tourneys, finish 16-3.