By Michael Rich
There’s a reason Dick Vitale shrieks for teams to, ‘Get a T.O., baby!’ during basketball games. Timeouts can change the game’s mojo.
A third-set timeout called by Olentangy Liberty volleyball coach Jen Chapman turned an 18-10 deficit into a 30-28 win in the set, giving the Patriots a straight-set victory over Olentangy Orange in a Division I district semifinal Thursday at Bloom-Carroll.
“Really all I said is that the seniors have worked too hard and put too much in to let it finish like this,” Chapman said. “I knew we were much more capable than what we were doing on the court. That’s about it … no magic.”
The Pioneers came out firing in the third set, using a 6-0 run to build a 10-4 lead, which started on a Jordan Gels kill.
Gels had six kills in the final set, four of which helped Orange build the big lead.
“Orange, defensively, started playing phenomenally,” Chapman said. “We struggled with some fundamentals on our side.”
But a Liberty timeout seemed to change everything.
“I think after that timeout, (the players) just kind of calmed each other down and played volleyball like we’ve played volleyball all year,” Chapman said. “They’re a fun team to coach and be around because they do stuff like that. Sometimes it’s fun … sometimes it gives me a heart attack.”
“(Chapman) has done a phenomenal job with that program,” Pioneers coach Katie Duy said. “They’re a very well-coached team.”
A double-hit pulled the Patriots within three points at 22-19 and Orange followed with back-to-back points, including a kill by Gels, to get to set point.
But the Patriots wouldn’t go away. Shelby Stewart had three kills and teamed up with Maddie Fogg on a block to help her team score seven consecutive points to take a 25-24 lead.
Stewart finished with eight kills and seven blocks. Fogg had 25 assists and Lauren Nichols led the Patriots with 20 digs.
“I give (Fogg) a lot of credit,” Duy said. “She gets to balls and makes plays on bad passes and creates opportunities. I think she’s one of the best setters in the Central District right now.”
Madison Brenner led Liberty with 10 kills.
Both teams got to set points a couple of times, but it was a net ball and a long serve that ended up doing in the Pioneers in the end.
The teams were 21-21 in the first set before the Patriots rallied for the final four points to take the set, which included kills by Fogg and Stewart.
“(Winning the first set) sets the tone,” Chapman said. “It builds confidence. They knew it was a big match coming in just because of who it was against.”
Liberty controlled much of the second set when it built a 21-11 lead before winning 25-18.
“I don’t think they were feeling safe,” Chapman said. “It’s hard to just keep it going and you could tell (in the third set) that there was a little bit of a mental lapse.”
The district semifinal isn’t new territory for Liberty, who won in the round for the sixth time in eight appearances, including four straight from 2010 to 2013.
The Patriots will play for the district title for the seventh time in school history, looking to put the banner up for the first time.
The win, Liberty’s 22nd, sets a new single-season record for wins, surpassing the 2007, 2009 and 2010 teams, which all won 21.
Orange, however, reached the district semifinal for the first time last season. The Pioneers broke new ground with a school-record 21 wins this season and their first OCC title.
Though the schools are district-rivals, this was only the second meeting in the regular season or playoffs in volleyball and first since Sept. 22, 2010 – a match Liberty also won in three sets.
That will change next season with the OCC realignment when all three Olentangy schools will be paired with the three Westerville schools in the same division.
Next up, the Patriots will play fourth-seeded Westerville Central Saturday at 1 p.m. at Bloom-Carroll High School.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.