A third set seemed all but inevitable in Neoga Thursday night after South Central rebounded from a first-set loss with the first 11 points of the second set.
Nobody told that to the Neoga Indians, however.
After falling behind 11-0 and 13-2, Neoga roared back on Senior Night and came back in the second set to win 25-21. The Indians won the first set 25-17 to earn the victory.
Coach Reeni Letizia called two timeouts during the 11-point opening run, but had faith that her players would sort things out.
"They don't get flustered, and they stayed with it all through the match," Letizia said. I just gave them a chance to take a breath and calm down a bit.
South Central's lead got 13-2 on a Melissa Drum serve that couldn't be returned, but things would snowball for the Cougars quickly. Taylor Gresens and Jillian Deters stepped up big for Neoga to tie the game at 17-17, and Gresens gave the Indians a brief lead with an unreturnable serve.
South Central would grab the lead back at 19-18, only to give it back at 20-19. From there, Courtney Croy had three kills in the next five points, with Demmie Long and Olivia Ott adding the other points.
Letizia said she is happy with her team's progress, coming off a third-place finish at the National Trail Conference tournament.
"They're peaking at the right time," she said.
Neoga didn't dig itself as deep a hole in the first set, falling behind 4-0 but quickly regaining a 6-5 advantage. The lead would switch hands from there twice more, but Neoga took control at the midpoint and seized the set.
The offense was balanced in the first set, but throughout the game, it was the defense that fueled the Indians' win. A number of kills by Maria Brasel, Lincoln Brasel and Emily Chapman were negated by quality digging and long volleys that went the Indians' way.
"They're smart volleyball players, they know what to do," Letizia said. "Our back row is really good ... They all can dig the ball and get to the right positions at the right time."
Gresens and Croy each had seven kills, while Ott and Jillian Deters added five each. Deters had nine digs, as did Mallori Harshman, while Ott led the team with 12 digs.
Long had a double-double with 13 assists and 10 digs, and Croy led the team with two blocks. Gresens had a team-high two aces.
Maria Brasel had a huge night for South Central, recording five aces, five assists, two kills, three digs and a boock. Lincoln Brasel led the team with eight kills.
Monica Young had six digs and Chapman topped the team with seven assists.
The win bumps Neoga to 21-13 overall and they finish NTC play at 6-3.
Both teams now head to Regionals. South Central (15-16, 4-5) hosts a regional Tuesday, taking on Patoka at 7 p.m. The Cougars bested Patoka 25-11, 25-11 Wednesday.
Neoga moves on to the Dieterich regional, where they will face Cowden-Herrick at 7 p.m. That regional also hosts Beecher City, Dieterich and Stew-Stras, who the Indians fell to at the NTC tournament. But the Indians are focused on the Hornets.
"That's the one thing about the postseason, everyone starts out 0-0," Letizia said. "What we do Tuesday night will determine if we get to play Thursday."
South Central 17 21
Neoga 25 25
SC: M. Brasel (5 aces, 5 assists, 2 kills, 1 block, 3 digs); L. Brasel (8 kills, 2 blocks, 1 dig); Smith (3 kills, 1 block); Chapman (7 assists, 2 kills, 1 block, 1 dig); Young (6 digs); Drum (1 dig); Potter (1 block)
Neoga: Kastl (1 kill, 5 digs); Ott (5 kills, 12 digs, 1 block, 1 ace); Croy (7 kills, 12 digs, 1 block, 1 ace); Deters (5 kills, 9 digs, 1 ace); Long (1 kill, 13 assists, 10 digs, 1 ace); Harshman (1 kill, 9 digs, 1 ace); Gresens (7 kills, 2 digs, 2 aces); Partlow (1 dig)