ST. PETERSBURG — With victory seemingly in its grasp Tuesday night, Countryside missed a couple serves, made a few errant passes and failed to convert two match points, all of which helped Northside Christian force a fifth set.
"After that, we could have folded," Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly.
Instead, the Cougars rallied.
In the decisive game, Countryside put everything together in the nick of time to escape with a 22-25, 27-25, 25-14, 24-26, 15-11 win in a back-and-forth duel between two of the county's top squads.
"We were all talking to each other, and saying, 'Be strong, be smart,' " Countryside middle blocker Nicole Dunn said the Cougars players were telling one another before the final game.
Dunn (16 kills) was particularly clutch down the stretch, blasting several powerful spikes.
But make no mistake, this was a team effort for Countryside (18-1).
Outside hitter Davionna DiSalvatore (21 kills), as she often does, also came up big, middle blocker Shatia Wallace hit a handful of well-placed serves, setter Sara Wright (54 assists) ran the offense to perfection and middle blocker Savannah Stona put down a kill on match point.
"Volleyball is a game of momentum," Mustangs coach Kelly Jackson said. "We both had it at one point or another."
Early on, Northside Christian was the better team.
After rallying from an 11-6 hole to open the match, the Mustangs (11-5) took the opening game largely because of middle hitter Kayla Walton, who finished with 18 kills. In the second, Northside Christian played well but couldn't hold a 23-21 lead.
"We just started out flat," Bayly said. "We weren't playing well defensively, and we weren't moving our feet. We weren't ourselves."
By the middle of the fourth, Countryside had taken control.
Or so it seemed.
A DiSalvatore kill put the Cougars ahead 23-19, but Northside Christian rallied and Countryside wilted a bit. One point after a kill from middle hitter Jennica Mullins (14 kills, seven blocks) gave the Mustangs a 25-24 lead, they sent the match to the fifth set after a Cougars miss.
"I think we lost focus," Dunn said.
Thankfully for the Cougars, it was only a momentary lapse.