By Randy Jennings / Special Contributor
COPPELL — Already down one set and trailing in the second, Highland Park players and supporters grew silent when play was stopped with setter Carter Ching writhing in pain and clutching her ankle.
What could have been disastrous for the Lady Scots’ hopes during Thursday’s Class 5A Region II area playoff match instead became a rallying point.
The team banded together around freshman replacement Gracie Braner and HP pulled off a dramatic comeback in five sets, 23-25, 25-17, 18-25, 25-18, 17-15, to finally end a hex of area-round playoff losses in each of the last three seasons.
“It was in the minds of all of us to win for Carter,’’ said Anna Claire Nichol, a Wake Forest commit who had the decisive cross-court swing on match point. “And I’ve never seen Gracie play like that.”
The Lady Scots (36-11) extended their winning streak to 22 matches even though it lost a set for the first time since Aug. 24.
“First, Wakeland gave us all we could handle,’’ said Highland Park head coach Michael Dearman. “How fitting it was to go to five sets since they beat us 19-17 in five last year. I was really proud of the way the team rallied around our freshman. Some might have doubted us, but I know my players I knew we would pull it out.’’
The Lady Wolverines (26-14) battled to the end, fighting off three match points that included one rally with a desperation shot from among the team’s cheerleaders. Sydney Stroh and Rylee Williams led the Wakeland attack with 11 and seven kills, respectively.
Nichol’s winning kill was her 11th of the night. Alabama commit Kendyl Reaugh led HP hitters with 17 kills while Lauren McMahon and Kate Nugent each had nine. Nugent’s six blocks led the team, with Nichol and Reaugh each accounting for three.
The Lady Scots started nervously, dropping the first set with five missed serves. They scored the final seven points in taking the second set with Jeanne Tulimieri serving the last six. Wakeland countered with a seven-point run of its own at the end of third set to go back in front.
With no wiggle room in the fourth set, HP built the match’s biggest lead of 10 and made it stand up to force the final set.
From an 11-10 deficit in the fifth, the Scots got to match point on two kills each from Reaugh and Nugent. Wakeland fought back to tie at 14 and 15. A controlled block by McMahon set up Nichol with the fourth and final match point.
Next up, HP will play Frisco Lebanon Trail in a Region II quarterfinal at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Richardson Berkner.