Last night in Uniontown, the Francis Scott Key Eagles showed why they've been regulars at the state playoffs in recent years.
The North Carroll Panthers, looking to see where they are with a tough early-season test, found themselves in the same neighborhood as they went the distance before falling to the No. 5 Eagles in the fifth and deciding game.
It was all No. 12 North Carroll in the first two games -- 15-9, 15-10 -- but the Eagles showed their poise and experience the rest of the way -- 15-8, 15-5 and, in the fifth game, 15-7.
"After the second game, we didn't let it get us down," said Key coach Leo Totten. "I just said one word -- 'Smithsburg.' Last season, the same thing happened at Smithsburg. We were down two games and came back. That's where the experience paid off."
After the second game, the Eagles (3-0) started serving better, adjusted to the Panthers' blocking schemes, and got better first hits for senior-setter Erin Ness, who began finding hitters Cindy Sheedy and Stephanie Stambaugh.
"We were down two, but we still knew we could do it," said Sheedy, who had seven kills and a block in the last three games. "We just started playing better -- communicating and serving better."
The Eagles, undefeated in the regular season last year before losing in the Class 1A state final, trailed 5-0 in the third game before starting the rally. They rolled off 11 of the next 12 points to take control, with Sheedy, Stambaugh, senior Nicole Keffer and junior Heather Abel coming up with kills during the run. An ace from Keffer closed out the third game, and the Eagles were on the way back.
Some solid setting from Ness and more strong net play from Stambaugh and Sheedy got the Eagles even in the fourth game.
The Panthers (1-1) wore down in the fifth game, as Key jumped out 10-1. They showed heart in coming back -- closing within 10-4 -- before falling, 15-7.
North Carroll first-year coach Lloyd Ford saw plenty of positives from his Panthers.
"It takes a quality team to come back like that, and you have to give Key credit," he said. "But our girls didn't give up and were fighting all the way. I tell them, 'Let's get better every day.' We did that."
The Panthers jumped on the Eagles at the start behind the net play of seniors Carisa Kreichauf and Karen Carter, and some good serving by Lisa Beverly.
They were at their best in the second game. Beverly started with an ace on her jump serve. Kristie Stem had two straight blocks to win the second point, and Amber Peltzer found open space in the Eagles' back row on a long rally fora 3-0 lead.
Pub Date: 9/13/96