“I would say that was the best they've ever played because nobody hesitated, everybody was just on fire and they closed,” Schlechte said of the first-set win, 25-10.
Schlechte, who said on Monday she hoped her team started Tuesday's game committed to playing a competitive game, said it felt good to see her team in sync – beginning with a 9-3 lead, extending it to 17-7 and bringing it to 22-9, before closing the Titans off.
“We never controlled the ball,” Tri-County head coach Drew Robertson said. “We weren't able to do much, except set (Stew-Stras) free balls and they're not going to have any trouble with that.”
Stew-Stras continued its hot play into the second set, taking an early 4-0 lead, but Tri-County wouldn't let the Comets walk away with an easy victory.
Tri-County scored four consecutive points, trailing 13-9, to tie the game for the first time since the score was 1-1 in the first set; however, the Comets rebuilt the lead, 19-16.
Schlechte was forced to use her first timeout of the match as the Titans tied her squad 20-20, before the teams combined to score 10 more points the rest of the set.
“I wish we could've played like (game one) in game two – dominated like that,” Schlechte said. “We struggled just a little bit, but were able to put down some big hits.”
Brittani Tabbert was at the forefront of those big hits, including one that lifted the Comets out of a 24-24 tie and scored one of the last two points of the match.
However, Tabbert came up with a critical stuff-block with the game tied 22-22 that gave Stew-Stras momentum after Tri-County scored two of the previous three points.
“That block was huge for us,” Schlechte said. “That was a huge turnaround for us, as far as boosting momentum. I can't remember what happened on the next point.”
The Comets scored again after Tabbert's block and were within one point of winning the set and match, 24-22, but Tri-County scored two straight points to keep hope alive.
Tabbert's spike and a tip play by Clara Kaufman scored the final two points for the Comets, which was a fitting end – even though Kaufman's tip was almost a miscommunication with Baylee Quast, who was also going for the ball near the net.
“We were all holding our breath when Clara went up for that ball,” Schlechte said.
Kaufman's tip was the last of many during the game that went the Comets' way, leaving Tri-County players sprawled out on the floor trying to keep the ball from dropping.
The Comets knew they needed to attack Tri-County's lack of height at the setting position during the game and Kendall Knop played a big role in executing that, Schlechte said.
“We placed (the balls) there, you know,” Schlechte said. “The goal was to go high outside. Kendall does a really good job tipping off that side of the block. She's getting so good at it that you can't tell where she's going with it.”
Stew-Stras' strategy was no surprise, Robertson said, but his team wasn't able to stop it as the Comets swept the Titans to advance to Thursday's sectional championship.
The Comets will play Arthur-Lovington at 7 p.m. Thursday to advance to the Nokomis Super-Sectional on Saturday. Arthur-Lovington beat Heritage in two sets, in the second game of the Arcola Sectional Tuesday night.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or email@example.com.
Stew-Stras 25 26
Tri-County 10 24
Stew-Stras: Schlechte (4 kills, 10 assists, 4 digs), Quast (2 aces, 12 assists, 9 digs), Knop (2 aces, 8 kills, 9 digs), Tabbert (13 kills, 1 dig, 1 block), Stremming (1 dig, 1 block), Locke (1 ace, 3 assists, 2 digs), Kaufman (1 kill, 1 dig)