Playing in its first sectional girls volleyball match in 13 years, Palatine found itself locked in a back-and-forth battle with top-seeded Stevenson on Tuesday night.
The nerve-wracking contest was in the third game when Pirates senior Sarah Schiffner stepped to the service line with her team trailing 5-3.
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Schiffner, though, showed no signs of the jitters.
With poise and confidence, she served for the next 10 points to give the Pirates a 13-5 lead and they never looked back in a 25-23, 22-25, 25-14 triumph in the Class 4A Fremd sectional semifinal.
The No. 4-seeded Pirates (27-11) advanced to Thursday's s 6:30 p.m. championship match against No. 3 Libertyville (32-6).
"I was just trying to focus and do my best," said Schiffner, who was 20-of-20 serving with 14 points and 2 aces. "And when that worked, it was a really good feeling."
And the Pirates' defense worked brilliantly all night long, led by libero Casey Dolen (18 digs), Taylor Fricano (18) and Cassie Chaplinsky (12).
Fricano (13 kills) and Chaplinsky (12) executed on the offensive end, too.
The Dayton-bound Fricano, whose big kill made it 13-5 before Stevenson finally got a side out on a kill by Anne Georcaris, led the Pirates with 13 kills while Chaplinsky added 7. Hannah Bridier and Kim Butler each connected for 3 while Val Soderstrom added 2 for the Mid-Suburban West champs.
"Sarah did a great job locating her serves and getting them out of their system," said Pirates coach Dan Gavin. "And we knew that would be the key with their size. They're a great team. They are 34-4 for a reason.
"I thought Cassie had her best match of the season. She did it all -- served terrific, blocked terrific and obviously did an outstanding job on attack. She put together a really nice match."
Chaplinsky had 3 blocks and a kill during Schiffner's big service run in Set 3.
"It was fun," Chaplinsky said. "We were the underdogs so it was easier because we knew we had nothing to lose. And we played like that. We played with our hearts and left everything we had on the floor."
Soderstrom got her serve on the floor for the ace that ended Set 1 in favor of the Pirates.
The Pats battled back in Set 2 and gained the lead for good at 18-17 on a service error by Palatine.
Jenna Radtke blocked an overpass and Khaila Donaldson followed with a block to make to 20-17.
An ace by Alexa Bykowski and hitting error by Palatine made it 22-17.
Palatine edged back to 23-22 on a kill by Fricano off Schiffner's set but Stevenson won it with a kill by Radtke and block by Liza Plfugradt.
"You've got to give credit to Palatine," said Pats coach Tim Crow. "They made the plays. They got to every ball. We picked a bad time to play like we did. It was a battle for points right from the start. We were really out of character in a lot of areas."
Pflugradt led Stevenson with 9 kills, followed by Donaldson (8) and Radtke (7). Elizabeth Shancer made 15 digs and Donaldson 14 while Bykowski handed out 16 assist and Geocaris 11.
"I got to play on three great varsity teams here," said the Jacksonville State-bound Pflugradt. "It's been a great experience. This was a great team to end my final season of high school volleyball."
The Patriots finished 34-4 and played without standout Rachel Baader, a Pennsylvania recruit who missed her senior season with a knee injury.
"One loss does not define a season," Crow said. "This will go down as one of the strongest teams in Stevenson girls volleyball history."
The Patriots' only other losses were to Libertyville, Lake Zurich and New Trier.
"To lose Rachel and for these girls to step up not make excuses was just amazing to see," Crow said. "Instead, they used that as motivation. Our seniors really gave it their best this season and were an inspiration to all our underclassmen."
Donaldson is one of those underclassmen.
"Rachel was huge and everyone knew what she meant to our program the last few years and all our seniors," said Donaldson, a junior. "I feel now next season will by my turn to try and be one of those to try and help the team to a new level we've never been before."
Palatine's seniors have the Pirates at a level they haven't been in more than a decade.
And the Pirates got there with a take-charge third set on Tuesday, wrapped up when Schiffner served for the final 3 points. She got a block from Fricano, followed by a Chaplinsky kill and appropriately enough, a match-ending ace.
"I didn't want the season to end," said Schiffner (20 assists), who set the offense with Alex Heidrich (14 assists). "We wanted to play our hardest and it worked."