Battle Creek — Bronson dominated the fifth and deciding set of its Division 3 semifinal match against top-ranked Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central Thursday afternoon at Kellogg Arena to keep alive its hopes of earning a fourth straight championship.
Bronson — 57-6 and ranked No. 2 — will face Unionville-Sebewaing (26-4-4) in Saturday’s noon final.
St. Mary's (45-4), which defeated Bronson this season, looked like the better team through the first three sets, winning 25-23 in the opener behind the hitting and blocking of 6-foot senior Maddie Haut, who finished with 14 kills and a team-high .333 hitting percentage.
Bronson came back to even the match (25-21) before St. Mary's took the lead with a 25-20 win.
“We just didn’t play aggressive like we did in the first three sets,” St. Mary's coach coach Karen O’Brien said. “It was what was going on our side of the court. We started being tentative and stopped being aggressive.”
Bronson's 6-foot-1 junior outside hitter Keona Salesman stayed aggressive, a reason she left the court with a match-high 23 kills to go with 26 digs.
Bronson evened the match with a 25-18 win, then dominated in the fifth set with a 15-4 win to start the celebration, knowing it would make it back to the big stage for the chance to hoist the ultimate trophy.
“I don’t think there was fatigue,” O’Brien said of St. Mary's late collapse. “Did the nerves probably get us in the fifth set? Yes. We did some very unorthodox things that we haven’t done.”
St. Mary's had multiple unforced errors with hitting, then let a ball drop between players for a lack of communication, leading to a 10-2 deficit. It couldn’t recover. O’Brien said her team usually hits at a .300 clip, but noted it was .043 in the semifinal match.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” O’Brien said when asked the difference between St. Mary's regular-season win over Bronson and the loss in the state semifinals. “It means more, the chance to go on to the state championship match.
“I had full confidence we were going to win. I felt we had a tremendous year. We had four sophomores, four juniors and four seniors and I think the experience today will go a long way.”
Bronson couldn't wait to get the deciding set started.
“We went into the fifth game excited and that sets us apart from other teams,” said Bronson senior middle hitter Ashton Wronikowski, who had 10 kills.
Bronson's 19th-year head coach Jean LaClair said: “Survive and advance is what we’ve been saying all year. We worked hard on getting over errors fast where we didn’t dwell on it and that was important.”
Unionville-Sebewaing Area defeated Traverse City St. Francis 25-14, 26-24, 19-25, 25-21 in the other semifinal. Rylee Zimmer led USA with 27 kills, 14 digs and a .371 hitting percentage.
Grand Rapids Christian def. Lake Odessa Lakewood, 25-14, 25-20, 25-14
Pontiac Notre Dame Prep def. Corunna, 25-9, 25-14, 25-17
Final: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Unionville-Sebewaing def. Traverse City St. Francis, 25-15, 26-24, 19-25, 25-21
Bronson def. Monroe St. Mary CC, 23-25, 25-21, 20-25, 25-18, 15-4
Final: Saturday, noon
Mendon vs. Southfield Christian, noon
Leland vs. Carney-Nadeau, 2 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 10 a.m.
Lake Orion vs. Farmington Hills Mercy, 4:30 p.m.
Northville vs. Rockford, 6:30 p.m.
Final: Saturday, 2 p.m.