Despite a 2-0 lead over Westlake, Avon Lake suddenly found itself with a match on its hands.
But when push came to shove, the state-ranked Shoregals responded.
The up-and-coming Demons rallied and took the third set, 25-21, then took a quick 3-1 lead in the fourth. Avon Lake, however, came up with a rally of its own to escape with a 25-14, 25-20, 21-25, 25-19 Southwestern Conference win Tuesday night.
“In the middle of game three, we decided we were going to take some time off. Against a varsity team, you just can’t do that.” said Shoregals head coach Dan Berkheimer, whose team remained undefeated at 14-0.
“But the girls keep working through problems,” he said. “We have not really run over anybody this year. Whenever we’re down, we just seem to rise to the occasion. That’s not a character trait I see in many teams.
“We went five games with them in the second match of the season. I think the last game that night was 15-13, so we certainly didn’t want to go to five again,” he added.
Westlake, playing without injured middle hitter Lexi Schmidt and right side hitter Alyssa Zollos (illness), had hung tough in the second set and had a 19-17 lead. That’s when Avon Lake’s Whitney Craigo stepped to the back line to serve.
Craigo rattled off a pair of aces to tie the set at 19-19, forcing a Demon timeout. The Shoregals took the lead on a tip kill from junior middle Christine Bohan to keep turning the momentum Avon Lake’s way.
On the next play, Bohan slammed a Westlake overpass to the floor for a 21-19 lead. She followed that up with a block kill, then teammate Lauren Bakaitis registered a kill of the Westlake block to make it 23-19. The Demons were called for four hits on the next play.
Craigo missed her next serve, but Bohan ran a nice quick out of the middle on the next play to give the second set to the Shoregals.
The Demons could have folded at that point, but instead jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third set. Avon Lake recovered to regain the lead, but it was obvious the Demons weren’t going to go away without a fight.
The Craigo-Bohan combination helped the visitors grow their lead to 13-7, with Craigo scoring on a setter dump pass while serving two more aces. Bohan added to the rally with another quick and another slam off an overpass.
That’s when Westlake went on a 9-3 run to tie the score at 16-16. A pair of kills out of the middle from Johanna Tolman and one from the outside from sophomore Allyson Pesta got things going, along with four Shoregal hitting errors.
Avon Lake regained the lead briefly on a kill by Bohan, but Westlake would answer. A combination block kill by Jesse Moracz and Izabelle Jamsek and a kill to the corner from Jamsek made it 20-19, a lead the Demons would not relinquish.
A 5-2 run, topped off by a pair of kills from Tolman, moved the match to a fourth set.
A service ace from Jenna Lawrence and a kill off a back set from Taylor Kolarik made it 3-1, Demons, to start the fourth. The Shoregals regained some momentum and built a 14-10 lead, but Westlake responded with a Tolman block kill and a kill off the block by Kolarik. Tolman came back with a kill out of the middle, and the Demons were within a point at 14-13.
That’s when Avon Lake slowly, but surely regained control and began to close things out.
Up 17-15, the Shoregals started a 6-2 run when Bohan killed off another Demon overpass. Isabelle Wagner served up an ace, then a net violation made it 20-15. A Bakaitis kill and a Westlake hitting error made it 22-15.
Pesta had a pair of kills to keep the Demons in it, but another Bohan kill and another from Katie Mihalik ended the set, and the match.
Afterward, Westlake head coach Regan Pore said she was pleased with her team’s performance.
“Sometimes I have to sit back a little bit and put things in perspective as far as who we’re missing and how far we’ve come,” Pore said. “We’ve had some of our younger players really step up for us.
“They’re learning, and that’s exciting,” she said. “Allyson, for example, will hit two into the block, then come back with some big kills. Just to think of what she’ll eventually be as a senior is exciting. And Isabella brings some passion and fire. Her blocking ability is awesome.
“But all of our kids have pushed through a lot of stuff this year,” Pore said. “In that third game, they could have very easily turned around and just been done. But they fought back, and I feel they fought that fourth game too. It was little mistakes here and there that made the difference.”
Berkheimer said his team missed starting libero Heather Smith, who was still out with an injury. He also felt his team’s serving performance helped down the stretch.
“The timing on that couldn’t have been worse, because Westlake is a tough serving team. I think they scored most of their points by keeping us off balance,” he said.
“In the second set, we were down, but then Whitney took over,” Berkheimer said. “We still had Christine up in the front row, and that proved to be a good combination for us. I think we served more aggressively than we normally do, especially with Rachel Janicek, Whitney and Isabelle.
“Whenever I see the other team’s setter beyond the 10-foot line, I’m happy with our serving,” he added.
Westlake fell to 6-9 overall and 3-6 in the SWC. The Demons are at Berea Thursday night. Avon Lake will host Amherst the same night.