SIDNEY -- Billings Central is back in the Class A state volleyball championship.
The Rams, who have played for the past four titles, secured their spot in their fifth consecutive state championship match with a hard-fought 22-25, 27-25, 25-18, 27-25 win over Hardin in the undefeated semifinal on Friday.
Hardin entered Friday's match with plenty of momentum after knocking off previously unbeaten Columbia Falls in a quarterfinal match on Thursday. The Bulldogs won the first set against the Rams, but Central settled in and won the next three, including an impressive rally in the fourth, to advance to the championship. Central trailed 18-13 in the fourth set but was able to regain momentum and put together a frantic comeback for the 27-25 set win.
"We’ve always just said finish strong. We have this drill in practice where the JV team is up and we’re down, so I think that drill has really helped us want to work and get up and then win," senior Cindy Gray said.
"We talked a lot about the grind of games and just having to dig deep," Billings Central head coach Anita Foster said. "We know Hardin is a good team. The fact that the girls never really – when they made a mistake, they picked themselves up. I’m just really proud they found a way to finish.”
The Rams pounded down 53 kills in the match, with Cindy Gray accounting for 12, Maria Stewart 10 and Mollie McGrail nine. McGrail also had an impressive 7.5 blocks in the match, as Central racked up 15 blocks as a team. Stewart filled the stat sheet, as well, adding two aces, 23 digs and 41 assists to her line.
Hardin, which is assured its first state trophy since 2005 after its win over Columbia Falls on Thursday, got 11 kills each from Alyssa Pretty Weasel and LaFaye Russel.
The Bulldogs will play Columbia Falls in the third-place match at 10 a.m. Saturday after the Wildkats defeated Corvallis in the fourth-place match 25-22, 21-25, 25-16, 25-14.
Billings Central awaits in the state championship match at noon Saturday.
"This will be our fifth time in a row in the state championship game, and we've won two and lost two," Foster said. "Last year we took second. That's always in the back of their minds. They've all had to step in and fill roles this year, because we had a really big senior class last year. The confidence is there, the excitement. They just want it."
Columbia Falls def. Corvallis 25-22, 21-25, 25-16, 25-14
Columbia Falls is still in the hunt for a Class A state volleyball title.
The Wildkats beat Corvallis 25-22, 21-25, 25-16, 25-14 in the fourth-place match Friday to move on to Saturday's third-place match against Hardin. Columbia Falls fell to Hardin in five sets in a thrilling quarterfinal match on Thursday night.
"Every match is just a battle. I think that getting to this point, take a deep breath, show up (Saturday), put everything on the floor and see what happens," Columbia Falls head coach Jolandie Brooks said. "We are going to have to be better prepared mentally. We broke down on some of our skills and we allowed it to get into our heads. That definitely was our conversation (Friday). What do we do when our skills breaks down and how do we bring ourselves back out of that? We're going to have to stay in it mentally and we're going to have to fight for every point."
Madysen Hoerner was utterly dominant for the Wildkats, racking up 26 kills, nearly half of Columbia Falls' 53. Hoerner also had a game-high 22 digs. Hannah Schweikert had 44 assists and eight aces for the Wildkats. Madilyn Gilder led Corvallis with 22 kills.
Saturday's third-place match is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Saturday morning.
"We drove all the way here to Sidney, so we might as well just leave what we got on the court one more day and see what happens," Brooks said.