BY DAN STICKRADT
ROMEO — Romeo was able to accomplish something Thursday night that no other team had been able to accomplish against Clarkston in a best-of-five game match: Hold a 2-1 lead through three games.
Coming one day after Halloween, the advantage not only served as a scary wake-up call, but simply awoke a sleeping giant.
Clarkston rallied back from its rare deficit and big, post-holiday scare to register a thrilling, come-from-behind, 3-2, victory over the host Bulldogs in a Class A district semifinals. The Wolves posted a 25-23, 21-25, 19-25, 25-11, 15-5 triumph to escape the grips of an unexpected postseason death.
The second-ranked Wolves (51-6-1) will play at 11 a.m. Saturday morning in the district finals at Romeo against 10th-ranked Lake Orion, which upended Oxford 3-0 in the first semifinal Thursday.
“There was never a doubt that we weren’t going to win,” admitted Clarkston senior Rachel Dickerson. “We knew we had to match their energy, their intensity. I think it was that we haven’t seen this team before. We didn’t know what to expect. I think we hadn’t heard much about them and we might have looked ahead too much (to playing Lake Orion again).”
Clarkston nearly got caught committing the cardinal sin of the postseason and looking beyond an underrated team before elevating its game to a level that Romeo could not match.
“I have been with some of them for years and I could just see them melting down. It began at the end of the first game,” admitted Clarkston coach Kelly Avenall. “Luckily, we were able to maintain. In the second and third game, it’s like we were making mistakes and you could see it on their faces. We were just withdrawn instead of going after them and being aggressive.
“I couldn’t get them out of that funk (in the second and third game). We did have a bunch of blocking errors in those games,” continued Avenall. “It was a snowball effect. We hadn’t lost two games in a row like that all season. That was a scary position for them to be in that position. We haven’t been in that position all year.”
Romeo (30-14-3) led 2-0 in Game 4 when Clarkston began to mount its comeback. The Wolves went on a 12-2 run to go up 12-4 and Romeo was never a threat in the fourth set.
In Game 5, Clarkston led 4-1 and 6-2 and slowly pulled away. The Wolves closed out with a 9-3 run, at one time scoring six straight points via kill.
“Is it a good thing or a bad thing that we had to come back? Now, I know it’s a good thing because we know we can battle back,” added Avenall. “We know that we can have a 2-1 deficit and still come back and take it to a team and come back and win. That’s something that we need to know down the road because every team we play from here on out is going to be tough. If we are to make a run again this season, it’s not going to be easy.”
In the opener, Clarkston sailed out with the first seven points and led 8-1 before Romeo whittled away at the lead and eventually grabbed a 19-18 advantage and again led 22-21. The Wolves closed with a 4-1 run.
The second and third games, Romeo consistently took advantage of the home-cooking and low ceiling, trailing only early in the second and third sets. The Bulldogs could not sustain the momentum and pull the upset.
“I think we were able to something that they were not used to,” offered Romeo coach Stacey Williams. “Everything was clicking for us, but then Clarkston really started to come at us. They matched our energy. They are a very well-coached and experienced team and we’re a really young team. We took one of the best teams in the state to five games. I can’t complain about that.”
Dickerson slammed 18 kills, many coming in the fourth and fifth games for Clarkston. Briana Frakes added 37 assists and four aces for the Wolves.
Karlie Kelly had 13 kills, with six blocks and four aces for Romeo. Gia Milana had 13 kills and Deanna Krumholtz served up four aces for the Bulldogs.
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