Episcopal jumped ahead early against De La Salle in a second round Division IV volleyball playoff match on Monday, leading two sets to none and needing only a third set victory to clinch a visit to the quarterfinals.
The visiting Lady Cavaliers had different ideas, though, and after they were blown out 25-14 in the first set and dropped a tight second set 25-23, they came back to take the third set 25-21, and the fourth 25-22, to set up a winner-take-all final set with the winner headed for the Pontchartrain Center.
De La Salle (22-20) kept its momentum in the early going of the fifth set, going up 9-7, but the Lady Knights capitalized on three hitting errors, had a perfect placement shot and a kill by Alexandra Mitchell, and finished an 8-2 run on a kill by Courtney Gregoire to win the deciding set 15-11.
“I’m so proud of the girls. I don’t know what to say,” Episcopal coach Briget Melancon said. “It was a great volleyball match. There was competition, stress, pressure. We made a lot of mistakes and errors and got ourselves down, but we fought our way back.”
A big part of that fight was the play of Gregoire and Mitchell. Mitchell had 17 kills and 18 digs in the match, and Gregoire tallied 14 kills to go with seven digs and three service aces.
The two also spent the match battling De La Salle hitters Jordan Rankins (12 kills) and Joy Johnson (nine kills).
The Cavaliers offense revolved around freshman setter Rebecca LaCour who finished with 45 assists, including three straight to lead a 5-0 run at the end of the fourth set.
Mitchell said the Knights knew they had to step it up after De La Salle took sets three and four.
“After we won the first two, I think we were thinking ‘Let’s just win this set and go home,’ ” she said. “But we had to come back out and play with all our heart.”
De La Salle had trouble finding its rhythm in the first set with some uncertain passing and eight kill attempts which went out, some by a narrow margin. They started to find their footing on the 24th point, a point that saw some sparkling defense on both sides of the net. Episcopal won that point, but the visitors played the Knights close for the rest of the set.
Gregoire started strong for Episcopal, hitting around the De La Salle blockers for six kills in the first set and scoring on one block of her own.
De La Salle coach Alan Segar pointed to his team’s inconsistency as its greatest problem.
“Like I told my team, we play really, really good or really, really not good,” he said. “There’s no in-between for us. We made 15 hitting errors in the first set alone.
“In high school volleyball, it’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes that wins. Episcopal has a nice team, but we probably played to about 60 percent of our potential, and I feel like we gave away the match.”
De La Salle won the first two points of the second set, Episcopal tied it at two, and from there it was anybody’s set.
It was tied at 10, 15, 19 and 23. De La Salle went ahead 17-15 when Episcopal came back to lead 23-20 before the Cavaliers tied it again.
The Knights broke the tie with a power shot by Mitchell from the back row and got the win on a final service ace.
De La Salle dominated the early part of the third set. The Cavaliers were cruising comfortably at 14-6 when Episcopal (27-10) used a 7-0 run to pull within one at 14-13.
It was a dog fight the rest of the way, but Episcopal could get no closer than two and De La Salle took the set 24-21.