Northeast 3 — Easton 1

EASTON — Easton High’s volleyball team looked to be rebounding nicely.

After winning the first game, then losing the second, the Warriors jumped to a 7-0 lead in the third game and had the home crowd cranking up the volume during Wednesday’s Class 3A East Region II championship against Northeast-Anne Arundel.

But the fourth-seeded Eagles never seemed to lose composure and steadily chipped away at their deficit, rallying to take the third game before going on to take the fourth for a 23-25, 25-12, 28-26, 25-16 victory that earned them a spot in this year’s newly formatted state tournament.

“Maybe. Maybe,” Easton head coach Jen Powell said when asked if this was her toughest loss of her volleyball coaching career. “I’m proud of them because in all honesty we got moved up to 3A this year, and that’s because population size of the school. We didn’t get anybody different, so in my eyes we’re still the 2A team we were last year, and we’re in the region finals for 3A. And we took a game this year.

“It hurts,” Powell continued. “It’s bittersweet. I absolutely love those girls. They fought through the whole thing and they should be proud of what they did.”

Second-seeded Easton (12-4) fell behind early in the opening game, which featured nine ties and neither team building a lead of greater than three points. The Warriors pulled even at 9-9 on a net infraction by Northeast, and played tug-of-war the remainder of the contest before the Eagles sent a return wide and had a communication glitch on the final point to seal a 25-23 Easton win.

Northeast trailed early in Game 2, forged ties at 4-4 and 5-all, then took a 6-5 lead it never relinquished on a long Easton return. Leading 14-8, Sabrina Sheppard, who was brilliant from start to finish, went on a 3-0 service run that pushed the Eagles’ lead to 17-8, then watched Makayla Belanger serve four straight points en route to the most lopsided final of the night at 25-12.

“She’s the leader of our team,” Northeast head coach Meghan Kulzer said of Sheppard. “She is one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen at the high school level. She knows it’s more important to get points than to look fancy, or pretty.”

The Warriors bounced back to open Game 3, as Jade Williams went on a 6-0 service tear that featured a pair of Myia Jeter kills before Kulzer called time. A return into the net extended Easton’s lead to 7-0 before the Eagles started slowly reeling in the Warriors.

Easton maintained a seven-point cushion at 16-9, but Sheppard served three consecutive points to draw the Eagles within 16-12. The Warriors continued clinging to their lead at 19-16, before Northeast’s Ryleigh Spiegel stepped to the service line and didn’t leave until the Eagles were up 22-19.

Easton didn’t fade. Northeast sent a return into the net. Williams tapped down a winner, and Emily Griffith struck a serve that trickled over the net for a 22-22 tie. The two teams traded points before Jeter put down a winner for a 24-23 Warrior lead and a Northeast timeout.

But after three more ties, Northeast’s Camille Coryatt tapped down a winner before Sheppard hammered a kill for a 28-26 Game 3 victory.

“Huge. That was a huge setback,” Powell said of losing Game 3. “Couple miscues here and there ended up costing us. That’s part of volleyball. It’s a game of mistakes and we’re just going to have to keep fighting through.”

Sheppard’s serve gave the Eagles an early lead in Game 4. And though Easton pulled even at 3-3, it never could get out in front the rest of the match, Northeast turning a 7-6 advantage into a 13-6 bulge behind Coryatt’s serve.

Service runs by Kate Chapple and Jenny Shaw helped the Warriors twice get within three at 13-10 and 17-14. But Belanger served four consecutive points for a 22-14 lead before an Easton mishit on the game’s final point sealed the match and title for Northeast.

“A couple miscues again, nothing that anybody can be blamed for,” Powell said of the final game. “Just things happen in volleyball and we couldn’t seem to break that edge to jump back ahead. We worked very hard and fought through the whole thing.”

As did Northeast.

“These girls have so much heart that they can push through absolutely anything,” Kulzer said. “They’ve proved that every match this season that they are not quitters. They do not give up on anything.”

Follow me on Twitter @Bill_Haufe. Email me at bhaufe@stardem.com

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