It might not be the route the Billings Central Rams had wanted to take, but they’re still playing on the final day of the State A volleyball tournament.
The Rams advanced through the loser-out bracket by winning two matches Friday at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, sweeping Polson and Laurel and giving themselves a chance to defend their state championship.
It’s not quite the way last year’s Rams team did it on its way to a dominating title, but they’ll take it.
“We had some little issues, but as a team we got it back together,” said Central middle hitter Kalli Sizemore, who had 10 kills in the win over Laurel, the last match of the night. “We know that we are a very mentally tough group and so that’s just how we pulled it off. We knew that we had to do it.”
The Rams (24-8) face Lewistown (19-6) at 11 a.m. today. The loser gets third place, while the winner takes on Livingston (17-9) for the state title.
In Friday’s unbeaten semifinal, Livingston outdueled Lewistown, its Central A rival, 3-2 (29-27, 25-18, 17-25, 16-25, 15-10). It will be Livingston’s first trip to the title match since 2001 and it comes at the expense of the Eagles, who defeated the Rangers in five sets for the Central A title just last week. That match went to 23-21 in the fifth set — and fifth sets are only supposed to go to 15 points.
“This time it ended the right way for us,” Livingston coach Joey Lane said.
For Laurel, the season ended one match shy of a trophy, which turned out to be a good run for a team projected to finish in third place in the Eastern A. The scrappy Locomotives (18-9) had been successful in wearing other teams down, but simply couldn’t find a way to push past Central, which wound up with a 25-19, 25-16, 25-22 win.
“We fought hard,” said Ebright, whose team beat Dillon 3-0 earlier in the day in a loser-out match. “Central’s a tough team and we knew going into it they were going to give us a good run. But I can’t fault my girls, they played their butts off this season and they came out fourth at the state tournament.
“We had a tremendous season. Just because we didn’t bring home hardware from the state tournament doesn’t mean we didn’t succeed this year.”
Central now has to contend with a Lewistown team that revolves around big hitters McCalle Feller and Dayna Jensen. Then the winner of that match will have to beat Livingston twice because the Rangers are unbeaten heading into this afternoon’s championship.
“Nothing gets easy,” Central coach Liz Hanser said. “We’re in the top three. The girls deserve it. We can’t make any errors (against Lewistown). They hit hard and we have to get the block.”