The Trojans cruised to victories in the opening two games of the Class B semifinals against East Grand Rapids, only to see the Pioneers storm back to win the next two games, forcing a deciding fifth game with a trip to the state finals on the line.
Fruitport raced out to a 5-0 lead behind the strong serving of senior Amber Carmean, then held off East Grand Rapids when Breanna Geile’s tip fell to the floor for a 15-13 victory and a trip back to the state finals.
The Trojans will meet Tecumseh in today’s title game. The Indians downed traditional powerhouse Marysville in four games Friday, 26-28, 25-15, 25-21, 25-16.
“We won the first two games, then they roll over us in Games 3 and 4,” Trojans’ coach Nicole Bayle said. “We just executed a little bit better when it came down to crunch time.
“We had to go to five games against North Branch last year. This says a lot about what these girls can do when there’s pressure.”
The way Fruitport dominated Game 1, it didn’t appear there would be much pressure at all Friday night. The Trojans cruised in the opening game, 25-16, then held off East Grand Rapids in the second game, 25-23.
Fruitport had a chance to finish off the match in Game 3, but one of the Trojans’ strengths all year — their serving — failed them. Fruitport missed six serves in Game 3, including a serve that sailed long to give East Grand Rapids a 25-23 victory.
Game 4 was all Pioneers and senior outside hitter Betsy Ronda. She slammed down seven of her match-high 28 kills in Game 4 alone as East Grand Rapids raced to a 13-10 lead and never let the Trojans get any closer the rest of the way.
“You have to play one game at a time, and we did that,” EGR coach Christine Grunewald said. “We took that third game, then the fourth game. We did a great job of focusing on the moment. To Fruitport’s credit, they took us out of our offense. We have no regrets about how hard we played.”
In Game 5, the Trojans were in desperate need of a momentum swing, and Carmean gave them the boost they needed. Her wicked serve led to the opening point, then two more aces helped the Trojans lead 5-0.
East Grand Rapids stormed back to within 5-4 before Geile’s kill ended the Pioneers’ run and put Fruitport on top 6-4.
EGR tied the game at 8-all and again at 9-all. Brandie Jones’ block gave Fruitport a 10-9 lead, then setter Lauren Hazekamp’s tip made it 11-9.
Autumn Winger’s kill put the Trojans ahead 13-10, which was answered by EGR’s Caroline Knooihuizen.
An attacking error by the Pioneers put Fruitport one point away from the finals, but the Trojans failed on their first two attempts at match point. On their third try, following a time out, Geile’s tip fell between a trio of Pioneers, clinching the victory for the Trojans.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking,” said Geile, who finished with a team-high 27 kills. “Coach told us just to focus and get the next point. I just took what they gave me.
“This is undescribable. It’s amazing. We played for everybody on the team. We did feel a little more comfortable because of last year. We just refused to lose.”
The Trojans served strong, with 13 aces, including five each by Carmean and Hazekamp and three more by Lindsay Armstrong.
Hazekamp added 41 assists, nine kills and 18 digs. Carmean also had 18 digs while Jones had 17 digs, 12 kills and five blocks. Armstrong chipped in with 16 digs, and Geile added 15.
Rachael Folkmier had three kills and three blocks for Fruitport, which is now 49-8 on the season.
Knooihuizen added 15 kills and 16 digs for East Grand Rapids while setter Maeve McDonald had a strong outing with four kills, 48 assists and 22 digs.