LAKELAND — Countryside lost the opening game of its region semifinal against Lakeland, the only time the Cougars have done so this season.
Lakeland forced Countryside into a do-or-die Game 5, also a first for the Cougars.
And early in that deciding game, after Lakeland started with four straight points and extended its lead to 7-2, elimination seemed inevitable for Countryside.
The circumstances were unfamiliar, yet the Cougars' resolve remained.
Countryside righted the ship behind a Madison Truluck block, a Christina Berry kill and another kill from Truluck, and the Cougars persevered for a 25-27, 25-19, 25-22, 23-25, 15-11 victory Tuesday that was as intense a match as the Cougars played all season.
"We made a lot of mistakes," Countryside's Davionna DiSalvatore said. "But we came back and played our hearts out."
After drawing even at 8-all in Game 5, Lakeland again strung together consecutive points to go ahead 11-9. That was the last point the Dreadnaughts won.
Truluck put the Cougars ahead for good with her team-leading 25th kill and two straight aces. DiSalvatore (11 kills) emphatically slammed a ball into the corner of the court for a 13-11 advantage, Lakeland's Brianne Holland pushed her shot out of bounds and the Cougars' Mercedez Wilgus (11 kills) finished off the comeback by hitting into a hole in the Dreadnaughts' defense.
"Anybody could have won that match," Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly said. "I wish we could have played a little better, but it didn't matter in the end."
Countryside had an opportunity to close out Lakeland with a 20-18 lead in Game 4, but the Dreadnaughts rallied with four points in a row and held on to set up the dramatic ending.
"We're a tough team," Countryside setter Sara Wright said. "We stick together."