BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — It's all about finishing.
St. Francis rallied in all three games Tuesday night to turn back Boyne City 27-25, 25-22 and 25-21 in a Class C regional volleyball opener here.
The Gladiators (39-7-3) will face Johannesburg-Lewiston for the title Thursday night. The Cardinals fought back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat McBain 25-27, 12-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-12.
St. Francis trailed 23-21 in the first game, 17-12 in the second and third games.
"It was exciting, nerve-wracking," Gladiators co-coach Rita Jones said. "We've been pretty darn good at finishing all year."
"Our kids don't seem to get rattled," co-coach Heather Simpson said. "They welcome a challenge. They always seem to step up."
Senior Bridget Bussell played an instrumental role in the victory. She finished with 14 kills, 6 digs, 4 aces.
"We kept pushing through and eventually came out with the win," she said.
In the first game, Bussell had a kill to pull the Gladiators to within a point, 23-22. She then served the next two points, including an ace, to give St. Francis the lead. Boyne City stayed in it at 25-25 before the Gladiators closed it out with Bussell ending it with another kill.
In game two, St. Francis trailed as late as 21-20 before turning it on.
The Lake Michigan Conference champions were down 21-17 in game three before scoring the final eight points. Freshman Madeline Rysztak had two kills to end it. She finished with 10 kills, 5 digs and 2 blocks.
"It's hard to come back like that, but it was a lot of fun," Rysztak said. "We played our game and pushed through. That's all that counts."
It was a frustrating night for the Ramblers.
"It was a tough one," Boyne City coach Casie Parker said. "Disappointing. I feel bad for my seniors. But I told my girls, 'Hold your heads high. That was a great match.' It was probably one of the best matches St. Francis has played all year. They kill a lot of teams. It was close."
Junior Kylie Hicks enjoyed a big night for the Ramblers with 20 kills,14 digs and 3 blocks.
"She's an amazing player," Parker said. "It's hard to stop her in the front row."
The problem for the Ramblers --because of the rotation — was that Hicks was in the back row at the end of all three games.
"That's where it hurt," Parker said.
Kaitlyn Hegewald finished with 32 assists for the Gladiators. Sophie Spencer added 5 digs, 4 kills, 3 aces and Megan Seida 4 aces.
For Boyne City, Heather Nichols contributed 26 assists and 14 digs. Rainy McCune had 4 aces.
Next up for the Gladiators: Johannesburg-Lewistion, which finished third in the Ski Valley.
The Cardinals had to work to down McBain.
"My girls never gave up," Joburg coach Kristine Peppin said.
The Cardinals let a 20-12 lead disappear in an opening game loss. McBain controlled the second game. The Cardinals, though, were then able to mount a comeback.
"We told them to quit looking at the score because it doesn't matter," Peppin said. "We said, 'You've got to control the things you can control. Take it upon yourself.'
"We got a little momentum and the girls ran with it and kept it all the way through game five. I felt we controlled the tempo and set the tone."