MISSOULA — Kalispell Flathead pulled off quite the trick on Missoula Hellgate.
The Bravettes closed a pivotal first set on a 12-0 run to treat themselves to a playoff-opening 25-21, 18-25, 25-23, 25-21 win over the Knights on Tuesday.
“It was pretty awesome to see that,” Flathead coach Nicole Fairclough said of the 12-0 run. “For them, we’ve worked on our consistency and putting that full game together and a full match together, and we showed that. It didn’t matter we were down, we were going to go out swinging.
"It was pretty sweet. ... To come back from that big of a deficit and win, I thought, was huge and just helped us with our confidence."
Seventh-seeded Flathead (7-17) advances to play No. 3 seed Helena High 6 p.m. Thursday in Helena with a trip to the state tournament on the line. The Bravettes missed the state tournament last season after qualifying during the previous 13 years.
The sixth-seeded Knights (6-16) will miss the state tournament for the second consecutive season. They won the second set against Flathead and would've been one set win away from continuing their season if they didn't drop the first set.
“That damaged our confidence a little bit,” Hellgate coach Matty Hancock said of losing the first set. “We’ve had a lot of those this season – either a slow start or we jump ahead and allow that team to come back. Our passing definitely was an issue that first set of allowing them to jump up.
“I definitely thought we had that first set. I knew that they’re such a strong team that they wouldn’t just lay down and let us walk all over them. That was a great comeback on their part.”
Flathead junior Madde Boles led all players with 21 kills. Bravettes sophomore Julia Burden nearly had a triple double with 11 digs, 10 kills and seven aces. Junior Hannah O’Dell tallied six kills and five blocks.
Hellgate senior Kate Koenig registered 15 kills and four aces to lead the Knights. Senior Jada Merseal added 12 kills, and junior Kylie Lunday had three blocks.
Like the Bravettes and Knights’ two regular-season matches, Tuesday’s game went four sets. Unlike those previous two, the road team won.
Hellgate built a 21-13 lead in the first set before Flathead closed on a 12-0 run that began with a Burden kill. Burden served during the entire run and had two aces, while the Knights had four attack errors and were called for a lift.
“I just had to focus and know that I was going to make the serve,” Burden said. “Just point by point, not thinking that I need to get like 10 points at once, but one at a time.”
Added Boles, who had four kills during the run: “I could feel everyone’s dedication and commitment. We all knew we were going to win no matter how many points they got on us.”
The Knights rebounded to take the second set, 25-18. Koenig had seven kills and an ace, and the Knights took advantage of Flathead attack errors.
The Knights dropped the third set, 25-23, after they battled back from a 16-7 deficit. Hellgate pulled within 21-19, and the teams traded points until Hellgate scored two in a row on a service error and a four-hits call to get within 24-23. Boles closed the set with a kill as she and junior Taylor Henley split the Bravettes’ final four kills.
The Knights’ block came around in the fourth set — they had four that set after one in the first three — as they pulled within 21-19 after being down 15-11. Henley continued her timely play in the fourth set, a 25-21 Flathead win, with one block and two of her seven kills during a 3-0 run that put Flathead up 24-19.
“In the fourth set, I just felt like everything was clicking as a whole,” Henley said. “Everyone was doing everything that needed to happen for us to win. It feels pretty awesome.”
Kalispell Glacier def.
Missoula Big Sky 3-1
Missoula Big Sky's tumultuous season came to an end Tuesday in a Class AA state playoff loss to Kalispell Glacier, 25-21, 28-26, 21-25, 25-23.
The Eagles' seniors went down swinging, though.
Sam Tiede mustered a team-high 11 kills and fellow upperclass netter Brooke Kearns added nine kills and five blocks in the matchup between No. 5 Big Sky and No. 4 Glacier.
"They want to look back on this game remembering it in a positive light and I think they can," coach Brielle Rolle said after the game. "I don’t think any of them could have done anything more."
Senior Grace Lowder added a team-best two aces, while libero Alex Mintyala finished with 18 digs, second to Tiede's 32. Big Sky (10-11 overall), had its best season since before 2012.
"Before the game we talked about how this has been the best team Big Sky has seen in at least the last years and the girls take pride in that fact," said Rolle, who replaced former varsity coach Amy Roberts at the helm earlier this month.
With the win, Glacier (14-10) advances to state as either the West's No. 3 or 4 seed. If Flathead tops Helena High on Thursday, the Wolfpack would earn the third seed. A Helena win would make Glacier fourth.