NORMAL -- The three-peat is one win away for the Benet girls volleyball team.
Withstanding an early Crystal Lake South lead, the Redwings stormed back to score a 25-22, 25-18 win over Crystal Lake South Friday night in the Class 4A semifinals at Redbird Arena.
Benet (36-5) goes for its third straight state championship at 9 p.m. Saturday against Mother McAuley, the seventh-ranked team in the country. The Mighty Macs (39-2), who have not lost to an Illinois team this season, outlasted New Trier 32-30, 22-25, 25-15 in Friday's last semifinal match. CL South (37-4) will take on New Trier (30-4) at 7:30 p.m. for third place.
"I thought we played with great resolve," said Benet coach Brad Baker. "We've had challenges all season. We just had to fight and play hard and believe."
CL South, playing in a state final tournament for the first time since 1996, came out the aggressor and jumped to a 7-2 lead in the first set and still led 17-11 before Benet mounted its comeback. From that point, the Redwings outscored the Gators 39-26 the rest of the match.
"Obviously we were playing a very good team and coming into this we knew consistency was going to be a key," said CLS coach Jorie Fontana. "We talked a lot about execution. We had a game plan but we had to execute it."
While the Gators did that early on, their initial aggressiveness didn't phase the two-time defending champs.
"We've been in that situation before in the playoffs," said Baker. "We know we have runs in us and we were able to stave off their runs."
The Redwings did so with stellar defense. After CL South notched 7 kills in taking its 17-11 lead in the first set, the Gators had only 9 kills the rest of the match.
"We preach that you gotta play defense and our kids are passionate about defense," Baker said. "Tonight our defense kept us in it."
The Redwings spread their 27 digs in the match around the entire team. Senior setter Stephanie Sinnappan, who had 21 assists, led the way with 7 digs, while senior libero Caroline Wolf added six. Five other Benet players had at least one dig.
"We did a great job of staying calm and doing our job," said Wolf. "Everyone did a great job of fighting back."
And as the Redwings picked up their game defensively, the offense followed. Junior Rachael Fara finished with 9 kills, junior Dana Griffin had six, and senior Whitney Battoe, junior Marija Cyvas and senior Ashley Hitchcock added four each.
"At the beginning I just wasn't thinking straight," said Fara. "It finally started clicking and Stephanie had some great sets."
Trailing 21-18, a kill from Hitchcock gave Benet the serve and with Hitchcock at the line the Redwings used an ace, a kill from Fara and two CL South errors to take the lead. Fara's kill closed out the first set and Benet never trailed in the second set, taking an early 12-3 lead and eventually winning the match on a kill from Griffin.
"We found what worked for us and kept going after it," said Battoe.
Junior Carly Nolan led the Gators with 6 kills. Tori Falbo had 6 digs.
"Benet is a very good team but I felt like defensively we were doing well but then we got timid on defense and their offense started to go," said Fontana. "We started unraveling all over the place."
Leaving the Gators to play for third place.
"We have to have some short-term memory on this game," Nolan said. "All we can do is come back and try to win our last game."