Although the match was well in hand and light appeared at the end of the tunnel, the last 4 points Harvest Christian had to get in order to earn back-to-back sectional titles and return to the Elite Eight seemed to be the toughest points to score all night.
"We wanted to finish and every hit we weren't hitting as hard as we could," Lions' junior Sydney Doby said. "Once we got it into our mind like, 'hey, let's get it done, right here, right now,' we really came together as a team and finished -- got it done."
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And after letting Morgan Park Academy draw within 23-18 in Game 2, finish is just what Harvest did.
With a Morgan Park dig by Taylor Malecki going out of bounds and a kill from Ellie Burzlaff that had extra mustard on it, the Lions finally got it done and won their own Class 1A sectional title 25-13, 25-18 in front of a raucous home crowd at the Mitchell Swaback Athletic Center in Elgin Thursday night.
Harvest Christian (31-5) will meet Northeastern Athletic Conference rival Keith Country Day in the Lanark Eastland supersectional Saturday. The game is scheduled for 7 p.m., but that time could me moved to an afternoon start.
Led by Doby's 10 kills, 9 digs and 5 blocks, Jordan Sollars' 9 kill, 6 dig, 6 assist performance and Katelyn Floyd's 19 assists, Harvest is a win away from a trip to Redbird Arena and the IHSA Final Four, a feat the Lions were denied last year when they lost to eventual state champion Dakota in the River Ridge supersectional.
"We're ready to go further, ready to take the next step past supersectionals," Doby said. "Last year we were very tentative when we came in, very nervous, jittery, we weren't strong mentally. This year it's something we really worked on so I think if Saturday comes along, we'll just be preparing ourselves mentally before the game, before we go there so we can stay together as a team and not break down like we did last year."
Minus a breakdown and the way Morgan Park coach Tom Kaker described the Lions afterward, that should be no problem.
"They got a great team, they're solid all over," Kaker said, whose team finished 23-10. "Obviously (Doby) is their big hitter, their right side certainly hit down the line hard plenty of times, their outside hitters got plenty of points for them.
"Their biggest thing against us is their great defense. We got plenty of hits and we had some kills but they dug everything and had some big blocks. They've got the height, it's a good solid team. Great coach, solid all over."
Harvest was indeed solid all over from the start, jumping out to a 8-1 lead behind kills from Doby and Sollars and plenty of Warrior digs that sailed out of bounds.
One of Doby's blocks made it 16-7 at one point and a hit she returned later in the match made it 20-9. It became rather sloppy in lieu of Game 2 as numerous errors both ways were capped by Morgan Park's Isabelle Panozzo's return attempt that found its way out of bounds.
Yet it didn't carry over for Harvest in Game 2 but Morgan Park didn't go without a fight. It was 5-1 Harvest in the early stages and Harvest built up a 15-7 lead behind a Doby block and Chloe Corbett's kill from Sollars. Two more blocks by Doby during another run made it 21-10. An ace by Katelyn Healy and a few unforced errors gave the Warriors an 8-4 run and little breathing room at the end.
"It kind of got a little, 'what? can you finish please?' " Harvest coach Kim Floyd said.
When Burzlaff's kill won it, the Lions' student section emerged in the middle of the court but Floyd knows the celebration is short-lived.
"The next game is going to be huge. We have beat Keith twice. They have a new player on the roster. But we have to play the best to beat the best. They need to play clean, be ready to go in and play hard."
Lions' libero Jade Martinez might have been the unsung hero with 11 digs. She helped set up a lot of scoring opportunities while foiling Morgan Park's attack.
"She covers the entire court, literally," Floyd said. "She covers back, she's that person that's right behind you, the glory isn't there but she's the reason why they can run our offense."