Trailing 7-1 in the second game after already dropping the opener, St. Viator's volleyball team stared a season-ending defeat squarely in the eye Monday night.
That's when the Lions (27-11) -- pardon the pun -- started roaring back.
St. Viator finally pulled even with Johnsburg (29-9) at 16-16 on a push kill from Caroline Carlton and grabbed a 19-18 lead on the second of 4 consecutive kills by Kendall Claffey before going on to take the second game 25-20.
During the decisive third game, the Lions took the lead for good at 8-7 on the first of 3 straight powerful jump-serve aces by Kaylee Liberty and eventually pulled away for a 25-17 victory in Class 3A sectional semifinal action at Burlington Central.
"It was intense on both sides," said St. Viator coach Charlie Curtin. "There were huge rallies. It was fun to come out on the winning end."
With the victory, the Lions advance to Wednesday's 6 p.m. sectional title match against Rosary (15-22).
"We've never won a sectional," said Curtin. "I think the girls are ready for it. Rosary is a good team. We're going to have to bring it from the get-go."
That wasn't the case against Johnsburg as the Lions trailed 17-11 and 23-19 in the first game before battling back to tie it at 23-all on a net violation.
However, the Skyhawks scored the last 2 points on push kills from Morgan Madsen (7 kills) and setter Adisyn Illg to put the Lions in come-from-behind mode.
Starting the second game in a 7-1 hole made things even tougher for the Lions.
"We took a timeout just to talk about getting our heads in the game," said Curtin. "We didn't want to go out like that.
"I told the girls not to worry about 6 points right then but rather one point at a time."
Senior outside hitter Catherine Hickey began the comeback with 1 of her match-high 18 kills.
"I think we realized that this could be our last time playing for the majority of the team and we just snapped out of it," said Hickey, who was virtually unstoppable in the third game with 8 kills and 1 of the Lions' 6 aces.
"She's a great player and our go-to hitter," Curtin said of Hickey. "Her and Kaylee Liberty and Michaela Mueller serving kept them off balance."
Mueller recorded a season-high 39 assists while Kate Nottoli and Claffey added 8 and 6 kills, respectively.
"The girls pulled it together," said Curtin.
Hickey epitomized the Lions' determination when she fell to her knees for a dig before quickly getting back on her feet and delivering a kill on match point.
"Defense is definitely the first priority," said Hickey. "We can't put a ball down without any defense."
Senior outside hitter Abby Wemple paced Johnsburg with 11 kills and an ace.
"I think we had too many unforced errors," said Johnsburg coach Jackie Barnette. "We just couldn't get two or three points going at a time.
"They never gave up. They believed they could play with anybody."