WASHINGTON TWP. | Facing the biggest points of her career, Washington Township star senior Maddy Johnson was stuck on the sidelines, on the wrong side of the rotation.
Enter Lauren Kleist.
The sophomore outside hitter delivered a key kill that gave the Senators a one-point lead before Pioneer's Sarah Dorris hit the ball into the net to clinch the second regional title in school history with a 22-25, 25-18, 25-21, 22-25, 17-15 victory. The Senators advance to Saturday's Class A Caston Semistate.
"The end of the game was very nerve-wracking," Kleist said. "Maddy grabbed my head before she went out and she told me to make her proud."
Johnson was the focal point of the offense for much of the night as the senior led the Senators with 21 kills. The rest of her teammates deferred to Johnson in the fifth game and she delivered with six kills before she was rotated out of the match.
"I was just shaking on the sidelines," Johnson said. "I don't even remember the last point. I heard the crowd, and I knew that we got it."
The two teams were meeting in regional play for the fifth straight year, but none of the previous contests had ever gone more than four games.
"I told them before the fifth game that they needed to leave everything on the floor," Washington Township coach Kevin Labaj said. "All the blood, sweat and tears, that all needed to stay out there. Our experience truly helped us (Tuesday)."
The end of the match wasn't without some controversy. The Senators (27-8) trailed 14-13 and appeared to hit the ball long, but the official pointed his flag toward the ground directly in front of the Pioneer bench, sending Panther coach Rod Nies into a tirade.
"The way the calls went (Tuesday), there was a lot of back-and-forth," Labaj said. "There were some out-of-bounds calls that went both ways and some lift calls that went both ways. I wasn't able to see that play, but I think everything was even."
Kleist finished the match with 19 kills, while Emily Holcomb added 35 digs and two aces. The senior libero made a key save on the final point of the match that set up Pioneer's game-ending error.
"We've won this before (two years ago), but this year, as seniors, this is really something special," Holcomb said. "We're happy with this, but we've still got more to go."