WILLISTON — The Newberry Panthers gave their fans a scare on Halloween night, but managed to secure a five-set victory by the tightest of margins over the Williston Red Devils in the Class 1A-Region 4 FHSAA Volleyball final Tuesday.
After Williston (18-11) and Newberry (15-14) traded the first four sets (16-25, 25-21, 25-21, 19-25), the match came down to the decisive fifth set, in which Newberry overcame the raucous home fans to win the final set 15-13.
“The hearts of these kids, they’re champions,” Newberry coach Hank Rone said. “To finish the way they did tonight, it’s just a phenomenal feeling.”
The Panthers advance to face Branford (24-4), which eliminated Union County 3-1 in another region final, in the state semifinals at Polk State College in Winter Haven at 1 p.m. Monday. The winner plays the winner of the day’s other semifinal between Liberty County (21-6)-Baker (16-11) for the state title at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Williston Pulls Ahead Early
The home team got out to a hot start early in the first set. Feeding off of the energy from the crowd, the Red Devils secured a 9-5 advantage.
But the Panthers battled back, and they went on a run to tie it at 9-9.
The teams battled it out for a little while until Williston started to pick up speed. With the score tied 12-12, the Red Devils won nine straight points to make it 21-12. A tip and a spike by Williston outside hitter Chanitey James were highlights in this dominant run.
Newberry and Williston traded points until the end of the first set, with each team securing four points to end the set at 25-16 in favor of the Red Devils.
Newberry Fights Back
The Panthers’ toughness came through in the second set, as they scratched and clawed their way to a 25-21 victory.
The teams appeared evenly matched at the set’s beginning, trading the first 10 points to make the score 5-5.
But Newberry went on a 6-1 run to take an 11-6 lead, was punctuated with a long point ending in a Williston mistake and a massive block by middle blocker Cayla Phillips.
The Red Devils rallied and took a 15-14 lead after a couple of mistakes by the Panthers, but the visitors did not get discouraged. After tying the set at 21, they won four straight points to seal the deal, 25-21.
The third set was nearly an exact replica of the second. Another hard-fought set had the score tied at 16-16, but the Panthers again pulled away.
They clung to a two-point advantage late in the set and won the last two points of the set to finish it, again by a 25-21 score.
Newberry’s last point of the set was won by team captain Hanna Templeton’s ace, causing an incredible roar from the Panthers fans.
“I was just hoping and praying that I could get that ace,” Templeton said. “It was sort of like a relief.”
Match Comes Down to the Wire
With their backs against the wall, Williston came out on fire in the last set. The Red Devils took a 3-0 advantage, and, although Newberry continued to nip at their heels, the Red Devils never looked back in the set.
The teams exchanged runs, but Williston had the last laugh in the fourth set, winning the last five points to claim it 25-19.
Outside hitter Grace Dola emerged as a dominant force for the Red Devils, with multiple booming spikes that Newberry could not dig up.
With Williston’s win in the fourth set, the decisive fifth set was expected to be a battle of inches, and it was just that.
The teams traded points until the score was tied at 13-13.
With the match up for grabs, Newberry capitalized.
A huge block on a Dola spike attempt by middle blocker Sarah Watson and a match-sealing ace by outside hitter Chloe Jones gave the Panthers a stunning victory.
The Panthers’ bench exploded at the match’s conclusion, dogpiling Jones and the rest of the team in the middle of the court to create a remarkable sight.
“It was unreal,” Jones said. “I honestly started crying when they all dogpiled on me.”