CHICAGO | As soon as the final shot fell into the court Tuesday night, Mount Carmel senior Bob Walsh ripped off his volleyball jersey, just as he told his teammates he would.
The scenario he envisioned for his teammates, however, was not one of defeat.
The Caravan jumped out early Tuesday night and took the first game of its match against St. Rita in the De La Salle Sectional championship showdown, but the Mustangs fought back behind the resilience of their team leader, John Johnson, to post a 23-25, 25-16, 26-24 victory. With the win, the Mustangs (25-14) advance to the state tournament for the second consecutive year.
The Caravan (17-18) were within a point of victory, but two unforced Caravan errors and two kills by Mustang right side Dan O'Keefe turned a possible trip to Friday's state tournament at Hoffman Estates High School into heartbreaking defeat.
"We had a couple of mistakes late in the game, and that is the way the game goes sometimes," Caravan coach Marco Quintana said. "We smelled it, and obviously for our seniors, it hurts. This was their last shot, but this was the best game we had played the entire season."
The third game featured nine lead changes, with the Mustangs building three-point leads twice in the early going. The Mustangs led 21-18 after a middle kill by Tommy Stark, but the Caravan battled back with blocks for points by Garrett McGarry and Adam Williams, to help tie the match, 21-21.
Johnson had seven of his match-high 19 kills for the Mustangs in the deciding game.
"It is really hard to come back like that," Johnson said of the win. "One more point, and they would have won, but we couldn't think like that. We had to stay positive."
In the first game, it was the Caravan's turn to finish strong, as the team won the final four points of the game. Bob Walsh, who led the Caravan with 14 kills Tuesday, credited the front-line play of Williams (two kills, three blocks) and Sean Murphy (four kills, two blocks) as the difference in the first game.
"They both are underclassmen and had been kind of shaky the whole season for us," Walsh said. "But they played a great game for us; if they hadn't played like they did for us tonight, we would have been blown out."