A tense third game of Monday's Class AA Buffalo Grove regional play-in was tied at 18-18 when Elisa Ambrose stepped to the service line.
The Conant junior was not thrilled about missing two serves earlier in the match against No. 19-seeded Palatine.
But Ambrose didn't miss when it counted.
Ambrose went 7-for-7 and provided the quick set for Jenn Donnell's match-winning and match-high 13th kill in a 17-25, 25-16, 25-18 triumph for the Cougars.
"Once I got up there, I said to myself I wasn't going to miss another serve because I'd missed those two earlier," Ambrose said. "I just wanted to get the ball in the court."
The No. 14 Cougars (18-18) will take the court today at 6 p.m. for a semifinal match with No. 3 seeded Stevenson.
"We're going to have to turn it up a notch," said Peggy Scholten, the Cougars Hall of Fame coach who is retiring after 37 years directing the program. "We've got to play our best match."
Scholten made a few adjustments after Game 1 and got the Cougars playing better in the final two games.
"I give a lot of credit to Dan (Gavin, Palatine coach)," Scholten said. "He knew what he had to do to beat us and we had to adjust. I thought Julia Catalano and Daniele Sortino coming in to the match really made a difference for us."
Catalano's kill gave Conant a 3-1 lead in Game 2 and moments later the senior right side hitter served 6 straight points to give the Cougars a 10-6 lead they would never relinquish.
Sortino had a kill in Game 3 which put the Cougars ahead 12-9 and the senior middle blocker had a block in the match.
Back-to-back aces by Alexis Serna (team-high 12 digs) gave Palatine a 7-3 lead in Game 1 and the Pirates raced ahead 16-9 on a kill by Kim Butler.
Freshman outside hitter Claire Chaplinsky, who led Palatine (7-25) with 9 kills, put one down for a 22-15 lead. Her tip made it 24-17 before Hannah Bridier's block lifted the Pirates to the 25-17 win.
"I think we had some nerves," Catalano said. abut the first game "But we all knew what to do to get back into the match.
"Especially after the first game, we knew we all had to pull together," Ambrose added. "It was our fourth time playing them. We knew we had to pick it up because they were playing with more intensity than the first three times."
Two aces by junior Caitlin Riedy gave Palatine a 2-0 lead in Game 3. The Pirates increased it to 6-2 when Butler blocked an overpass and Scholten called for a timeout.
Palatine led by as much as 10-5 but the Cougars gradually chipped away at the deficit and tied the match at 15-15 on an ace by Drea Catalano.
The Cougars got their first lead (16-15) on tip by Sarah Manczko, who had 4 kills along with teammate Alyssa Wachal.
Ambrose and setting partner Sarah Mazurek each had 12 assists while Kari Thomsen collected 18 digs and Donnell 17 with 2 blocks.
Top servers for Conant were Ambrose (16-of-128), Dee Dee Durr (10-of-10, 1 ace) and Wachal (6-of-6), .
Riedy (16 assists) and freshman Syndey Christiansen (8 assists) set the Pirates' offense which also received 5 kills apiece from Butler (5 kills) and Meg Angelaccio (5).
Liz Keelty had 7 digs for Palatine while Jessica Lundell (13-of-14, 2 aces), Serna (12-of-14, 2 aces) and Christiansen (13-13, 2 aces) were top servers.
"We had a great group of kids," said Palatine coach Dan Gavin. "We struggled volleyball-wise with our consistency but in terms of the kids, you'll never find more character kids. As much as the loss might sting now, the type of kids we had is much more important to me."