To earn a share of the school's first Central Maryland Conference title in more than a dozen years, South Carroll had to beat conference-leading Thomas Johnson for the second time this season last night.
But the Cavaliers learned that was easier said than done as they fell to the visiting Patriots, 3-2, in Sykesville last night.
The five-game victory -- 15-10, 12-15, 15-7, 14-16, 15-7 -- meant that Thomas Johnson (11-1) secured its second conference crown in three years. South Carroll dropped to 9-3.
The Cavaliers never have captured the conference title in the 14 years that Debbie Eaton has been coach, but Eaton was not terribly upset about the loss.
"They beat us," she said. "They're an excellent passing team with a little bit too much firepower for us. We're a good defensive team, and they had us scrambling all night."
The loss ended an eight-match winning streak for South Carroll, which also had not lost a game since dropping a 15-11 game to Thomas Johnson on Sept. 21 -- when South Carroll won, 3-1.
"I think we're all disappointed, because we were on a big winning streak," said senior setter Brianna Schell, who had 17 assists. "We wanted this bad. We thought it was ours, but we couldn't pull through."
Much like the Cavaliers' four-game win against the Patriots last month, the teams split the first two games.
But unlike that earlier meeting, Thomas Johnson easily took the third game. After South Carroll cut an 8-6 Patriots lead to 8-7, Thomas Johnson won the game's final seven points.
Patriots coach Jim Dorsch said he thought the third game proved to be the match's turning point.
"We came out like gangbusters after the second game," Dorsch said. "That third one was the critical one."
In the fourth game, the Cavaliers sprinted to a 13-5 lead, but the Patriots ran off the next eight points to tie the score at 13. Senior outside hitter Jen Wilson had two kills during the outburst.
After the teams traded points, Eaton called timeout. On the next play, Thomas Johnson allowed a pass to fall to the floor, and South Carroll served out the next two points to win the game.
In the final game, the teams see-sawed to 4-4, before the Patriots won the next six points for a 10-4 lead. The Cavaliers won a point back when senior setter Christina Biddinger's pass sailed out of bounds, but Thomas Johnson won five of the next six points to seal the championship.
South Carroll junior hitter Emily Wolfing, who had five kills and two blocks, said the team was more inconsistent last night than in its win against the Patriots.
Schell hopes to meet the Patriots in regionals, adding: "I look forward to that, because we're looking to take back what we lost."