NEW HOPE — Cleveland appeared to be on the way to a playoff comeback to be remembered Saturday when Eastern Wayne came up with one of its own.
The Rams reeled off 15 consecutive points to win the fourth game, forcing a fifth set and building a 4-0 lead only to see the Warriors score nine of the last 10 points of the match and claim a 17-25, 25-20, 25-23, 15-25, 25-11 victory in the opening round of the 3A playoffs.
Cleveland finishes its season with a 9-11 record and loses seniors Blair Witmer, Hope Medlin, Brittany Bucklin, Ashleigh Wallis and Courtney Morris to graduation.
The Rams, who never lost to Eastern Wayne when they were together in the old Eastern Carolina 3A Conference for two seasons, won the opening set routinely but couldn’t string together points as the Warriors (5-16) mounted a push to even the match at a set apiece.
Cleveland led again (at 10-9) in the third set but could only string together consecutive points twice the rest of the set and dropped behind 2-1.
The fourth set saw the Rams and Warriors locked up in another tight battle at 13-all before Cleveland started to turn its game around.
Back-to-back kills by Marina Roe and Courtney Morris pushed Cleveland ahead 15-13. Eastern Wayne notched the next two points before a kill attempt sailed long, setting up Roe for a 10-point service run that evened the match at two sets apiece.
Bucklin, the Rams’ middle hitter, dominated at the net as the fourth set closed. She had three straight kills to wrap up the 25-15 decision.
“We just didn’t have it today,” said Cleveland coach Megan Morris. “We started playing better in game four and that carried over into the fifth game, but we let up and let them come back. We’ve done it all season.
“We can have a good game but we had trouble carrying that through entire matches consistently.”
Cleveland went up 4-0 in the fifth set and led 10-6 after another Bucklin kill, but couldn’t break the Warriors’ late-game momentum. Eastern Wayne’s only point loss during the closing run was a missed serve.
“It was a hard-fought match,” said Eastern coach Tony Parrish. “They were so solid, showed a lot of guts to win Game 4. We got passive in the fourth game and to start the fifth, but we strung together a few points in the fifth game and got our first playoff win.”
Both teams carried experience against larger schools into the match: Eastern Wayne’s from the mixed classification Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference (where it lost every match against the 4A opponents) and Cleveland’s from playing nonconference tilts against 4A 20-win clubs Garner and Clayton.
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