Beth Tocci didn't want to risk any nonchalance amongst her Billings West volleyball team.
So before Thursday night's Eastern AA playoff match against the Butte Bulldogs, Tocci, the West coach, showed her squad posters of former teams that had been upset by lesser opponents and some of her own teams that had gone on to victory despite long odds.
Well, the message not to take any team lightly might not have sunk in immediately, but the second-ranked Golden Bears finally put their foot down in the fourth game and went on to beat Butte 25-13, 22-25, 25-17, 25-6 at the West gym.
"I just wanted to reinforce that we needed to get the win and we needed to protect the season that we've established," said Tocci, whose team now advances to the state tournament, which begins Nov. 20 in Bozeman. "It's hard to think that you play an entire season and it comes down to resting on a single match. That's a difficult thing."
The match looked to be a mismatch on paper: West, the No. 2 seed in the league, against the last-place Bulldogs. But Butte hung tough and won the second game despite committing eight service errors.
West (22-7) regained its footing in the third game, however, and dominated Game 4 as Mikensi Romersa had six kills, Jennifer Stone had two blocks and two kills and Rachel Bryer and Alex Faught each had serving runs of five consecutive points.
"We finally came back and got our heads in it and came out strong," said Stone, who finished with a match-high five blocks. "That's what we were hoping to do, because (in Game 2) we wanted to do better than that, and we knew we could."
Romersa finished with 17 kills, while Erin Compton had 20 digs and five aces. Faught finished with 27 assists, and she and Romersa had back-to-back hard digs to keep the first point of game four alive and get the Bears off to an energetic start.
"We just thought it was our last game at home, we might as well finish strong," Romersa said.
Brianne Holland-Stergar had a big match for the Lady Bulldogs (7-17). She had a match-high 18 kills, but it wasn't enough to extend the Lady Bulldogs' season.
Butte's defeat also marked the end of the long career of John Ries, the only head coach the Lady Bulldogs' program has known. Ries announced at the beginning of the season he was stepping down after 26 seasons and retiring from teaching as well.
"It's time to do something else," said Ries, who missed qualifying for the state tournament for just the fourth time in his career. "I have no regrets. I've enjoyed every minute of it and I've enjoyed all the kids. It's just time to go on with life and do something else."
West def. Butte
25-13, 22-25, 25-17, 25-6
Butte (7-17) - Kills: 36 (Brianne Holland-Stergar 18). Assists: 33 (Micaul McClafferty 17). Blocks: 4 (Rebekah Gibson 2). Digs: 53 (Kalli McCloskey 14). Aces: 8 (Bobie Dickman 3).
Billings West (22-7) - Kills: 47 (Mikensi Romersa 17). Assists: 42 (Alex Faught 27). Blocks: 11 (Jennifer Stone 5). Digs: 75 (Erin Compton 20). Aces: 11 (Compton 5).