Battle Creek — Defending Class A state champion Romeo is used to being pushed to the limit and needing to pull out Game 5 wins to advance during the postseason.
The No. 6 Bulldogs (48-7-1) faced that scenario again Thursday night in a state volleyball semifinal by unranked Livonia Churchill.
Churchill (35-20) actually led 2-1 heading into Game 4 and then Miss Volleyball Gia Milana took over for Romeo, getting 12 kills with a .556 hitting percentage for a 25-16 win to push it to a fifth and deciding game won by the Bulldogs, 15-10, to move on to Saturday’s 2 p.m. championship match against Novi with the 23-25, 25-13, 20-25, 25-16, 15-10 victory at Kellogg Arena.
Novi defeated Grand Rapids Christian, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18 in the other semifinal. Novi has not dropped a game in the postseason.
“We’ve been on the good side of the five sets so that’s a good thing,” Romeo coach Stacy Williams said. “We just had a hard time getting our flow going and playing together and once they got a little fire under them and started believing that they could win (things changed). I think for most of the match we were playing not to lose and you can’t do that.”
Of Milana’s performance, Williams said: “We rely on that. She was Miss Volleyball for a reason, a go-to player when we need her and she gets kills when we need them. We have one more game (state final) that she’s going to do that for us.”
Milana, a 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter who will play next season at Maryland, finished with 43 kills, 18 digs and a .373 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Jodie Kelly had 14 kills (.464 hitting percentage) and senior setter Breanna Olley, 57 assists.
Milana talked of the comeback, starting with her Game 4 effort.
“To this point in my senior year I’ve learned when my team needs me I need to pick it up,” Milana said. “I know I’m going to get sets so what’s on my mind is I need to get this kill for my team and when I’m thinking that there’s nothing that’s going to stop me. They did really good putting up a defense against me, their libero (Alyssa Facione) is really, really good, but I think we just had more talent on our side.”
Still, things got interesting in the deciding Game 5. Romeo jumped out to an 8-5 lead behind the blocking of Payton Klein and Nicole Nowak and the hitting of Kelly and Milana, but then Churchill’s 6-2 junior Annie Yost blocked Milana’s kill attempt, Milana followed with a spike that was long, then another into the net to even things up a 8.
Churchill failed to take advantage with costly errors on a serve, then a kill to give the lead back to Romeo at 10-8 and soon after Milana ended the match with a kill, followed with a set to Kelly to close out the match.
“Gia’s a great player, you can’t take anything away from that, but our ball control and our defense is pretty good and I thought we did a really nice job of neutralizing her through the whole match giving ourselves a chance,” said Churchill coach Mark Grenier, who guided the Chargers to the Class A state title in 2007. “It was 8-8 in Game 5 and we gave ourselves a chance, a couple of points here or there and it’s different.”
Senior outside hitter Rayna Yetts, who will be a setter at Northwestern State in Louisiana, had 24 kills, 14 digs and 12 assists for Churchill with Yost contributing 11 kills, Samantha Zonca, 10 kills and setter Brianna Fulton, 22 assists.
Romeo d. Livonia Churchill, 23-25, 25-13, 20-25, 25-16, 15-10
Novi d. Grand Rapids Christian, 25-18, 25-18, 25-18
Battle Creek St. Philip d. Plymouth Christian, 24-26, 25-23, 25-16, 28-26
Leland d. Crystal Falls Forest Park, 23-25, 27-25, 25-18, 28-26
Goodrich vs. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, 5:30 p.m.
North Branch vs. Battle Creek Harper Creek, 7:15 p.m.
Bronson vs. Traverse City St. Francis, 2 p.m.
Brown City vs. Monroe St. Mary CC, 3:45 p.m.
Class A: Romeo (48-7-1) vs. Novi (54-2), 2 p.m.
Class B: 4 p.m.
Class C: Noon
Class D: Battle Creek St. Philip (46-16-2) vs Leland (48-7-4), 10 a.m.