South River trailed visiting Howard 2-1 heading into the fourth set of their match Tuesday evening. Although looking at the faces of the Seahawks, it was hard to tell.
In huddles and during stoppages of play, the players remained upbeat — encouraging one another every chance they got and even periodically dancing together. As it turned out, that ability to stay cool under pressure went a long way.
South River rallied to handedly win the fourth set and then outlasted Howard in a nip-and-tuck fifth set to pull out a 3-2 victory (17-25, 25-15, 14-25, 25-17, 15-12) that keeps the team undefeated on the year.
“When we were in the fifth set and every time we tied, it just made the game all that much more fun to play. And when we are having fun, we play better,” said South River junior Samanta Tarabella, who finished with a team-high 24 kills.
Junior Em Speciale added that the team never waivered in confidence, even with its backs against the wall.
“We have so much faith in one another that I just feel like we never stopped believing we could win tonight. And, honestly, for us it’s all about energy,” said Speciale, who had 47 assists. “The higher we can get that energy, whether that’s cheering, talking or whatever … the more dominant we are I think.”
While the match went five sets and both coaches said afterward that the two squads were evenly matched, the first four games themselves were fairly lopsided.
Howard jumped out and took the first set by a score of 25-17, capitalizing on a 10-2 run midway through that turned a tie game into a substantial lead.
Then South River rebounded to take the second set 25-15, never trailing after scoring seven straight points at the start.
Howard then led from start to finish in the third set, winning 25-14, before South River forced a deciding game courtesy of a 25-17 fourth-set victory where it again never trailed.
“That was an interesting match. I mean the first four games, the team that started off the game ready to play won it fairly handedly,” Howard coach Grant Scott said. “I honestly think the games we lost, we made too many mistakes. And the games they lost, they made too many mistakes. It was too good teams out here tonight, so when someone made mistakes the other team was ready to take advantage.”
But in the fifth set, the two teams finally went back-and-forth. There were six ties and neither squad led by more than three. But ultimately, South River coach Maureen Carter said her team figured out the winning formula.
“We finally started getting our hits in and that’s what I think hurt us early on, lots of unforced errors,” she said. “It took us a little while tonight to get into a groove and a lot of credit to Howard, they were very good and they were picking up everything. But our girls kept going and when it came down to it Samantha came up big. She’s our go-to girl.”
Tarabella had a handful of authoritative kills in the final set, including during a mini 3-1 run late that broke a 9-9 tie. And it was another kill by the 6-foot outside hitter that eventually secured the clinching point.