St. Francis wins thriller over Burlington Central
St. Francis won its 32nd regional title in a row Thursday night but Burlington Central did not make it easy.
The host Rockets pushed the Spartans to three sets including a grueling first set that the Spartans won, 36-34. Central bounced back to win the second, 25-23. In the third set, St. Francis hit its stride to win 25-13 and retain the Class 3A regional crown.
The Spartans (23-13), seeded second in their subsectional, advance to the Sycamore sectional to face Belvidere North (35-2), top seed in its sub sectional, in the second semifinal on Monday.
The first set featured 15 ties, five lead changes and seven set points. St. Francis' biggest lead was 24-21 on a Megan Olson ace. Central rallied to tie the match at 24-24. The lead seesawed between the two teams until back-to-back spikes by Shay McMillen (13 kills) and Brook Everett (9 kills).
"It's an amazing run that we have had. Certainly, it won't last forever but I'm glad it continued tonight," St. Francis coach Lisa Ston said of the three-decade regional title reign. "They are a very good defensive team, so we were struggling a little bit finding a way to score and defensively we weren't at the top of our game."
"It was crazy," Everett said about the first set. "It definitely had a lot of ups and downs, but I just think our team just wanted it more and we just finished it."
"We knew this was a great team that we were playing. We knew that they would fight back." said Central coach Samantha Mainzer. "We tried to not let them get out of the runs and just keep pushing back. It just really came down to those little things and little errors."
The second set started out as another nip-and-tuck contest with numerous ties and lead changes. After the score was knotted at 18-all, Central went on a 6-2 run to reach set point, 24-20. Senior Rylie Hahn started the run with one of her seven kills.
St. Francis rallied to pull within a point 24-23 before Addy Nava ended the set with a kill. The senior led the Rockets with 13 kills.
"I definitely had faith that we could beat them in the second set. We talked about what was working and what wasn't," Mainzer said. "We knew that they were a scrappy team, but we found the open spots on the court, and we really fought back which allowed us to go to the third set."
Central jumped out to an early lead in the third set. St. Francis tied the contest at 5-5 on one of Jessica Schmidt's four kills and then pulled away.
"They switched up their offense a little bit on us and it really worked for them," Mainzer said. "Also, their serving was very aggressive in that third set."
"We were able to run our middles a little bit more and the certainly helped us win," said Ston.
"I was not serving too well in the first two sets but in the third set I managed to go on a little bit of serving run," said St. Francis libero Delainy White. "I just didn't want this to be our last game especially as a senior. I just wanted to uphold the tradition of winning regionals." White tallied 31 digs.
Central, seeded third in the subsectional, finished the season with a 22-16 record.
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