CANYON, Texas -- It was a nightmare being down 24-22 in the fourth set and painful trailing 11-6 in the fifth set.
But winning 18-16 to close out a five-set regional match to advance was exhilarating for Angelo State on Friday as they claimed a thriller against Colorado Mines in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II South Central championship.
"That was probably one of the most amazing matches I've ever been a part of," ASU head coach Chuck Waddington said. "To come back in the fourth set was awesome, but to do it again in the fifth set down late. I talked in the huddle about 'do or die', having guts and doing it one point at a time. They bought in and refused to lose. That's all I can say. They refused to lose that match."
The Belles (25-9), who won the match 20-25, 25-18, 20-25, 26-24, 18-16, advance to play in the regional finals for the second consecutive season against West Texas A&M. The Lady Buffs (33-3) advanced with a sweep of Regis (Colo.) in the second semifinal match of the night and set up a championship final at the WTAMU Fieldhouse with the winner advancing to the national tournament next weekend in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Maddie Huth and Arielle Bond led the Belles with 20 kills each, while Shelby Wilt had 32 digs on a night where ASU had a 115-91 advantage in digs against the Orediggers. Maggi Jo Keffury orchestrated the offense with 56 assists and matched a career-high with 22 digs. Katie MacLeay added 19 digs and Haley Bianco contributed another 15 for the resilient Belles.
Leah McWilliams, who had not played since Oct. 15 due to injury, returned on Friday with 12 kills, three blocks and seven digs. Courtney Bartusiak added a career-high nine blocks and eight kills, while Bond and Huth also contributed four blocks each.
"All it took was heart," Keffury said. "We have the talent, but it came down to us playing with a lot of guts in that fourth and fifth set."
"I was just thinking to get one more point the whole time," Bianco said. "When you're in a match like that it can go either way, but we never thought we were going to lose. We just kept going for the next ball and the next point."
Angelo State played catchup throughout the night after dropping the first set 25-20 to the Orediggers who hit .239 in the opener and limited ASU to a .179 percentage. The Belles staged their first comeback in the second set by taking a 25-18 win to tie the match at 1-1. Bond led ASU with seven kills in the second set in a dominant performance, while Huth added five kills in the set. ASU hit .289 in the set and limited CSM to a .087 percentage.
The Orediggers, who won the RMAC regular-season championship with a 17-2 record, responded though by taking the third set 25-20. They dominated the third set, jumping out to an 11-5 lead and didn't let the Belles to get any closer than four points. The win gave them a 2-1 set-advantage and put ASU in a must-win situation.
The Belles seemed to respond to the pressure early in the fourth set, establishing an 8-6 lead before it became a back-and-forth set with 12 ties. ASU's last lead in the set was a 11-10 before a flurry over responses from both team kept the match tight. Down 18-16 after two kills from CSM's Alanna Winfield, Cerbi Ritchey and Huth both had kills to tie the match at 18. The Orediggers would run off three straight points to establish a 21-18 lead before an attacking error paused the run. Huth and Bond scored two points for the Belles on kills to take the score to 22-21, but CSM had match point at 24-22 on an ASU error. A Bartusiak kill followed by an error tied the set at 24 before Bond and Ritchey sent the match into a fifth set with back-to-back kills.
"I feel like we were able to execute when it really mattered," Bond said. "We have struggled some this season with finishing games, but we never game up tonight."
ASU fell behind early in the fifth set, and trailed 6-2 before a Huth kills made it 6-3. CSM continued adding to its lead and had an 11-6 advantage on another ASU error. The Belles started chipping away though, taking advantage of three consecutive CSM errors which was followed by a McWilliams kill to trim the ASU deficit to one at 11-10. An exchange of errors made it 12-11 and a Huth kill tied the set at 13 a couple of points later. It went to 14-all on a Wannamaker kill that staved off a Belle win following a MacLeay ace and then to 15-all and then 16-all on a Huth kill which saved ASU from elimination. The match ended on two attacking errors by CSM.
"It was ball control," Waddington said. "When we handled the ball, we scored. When they handled the ball, they scored. It was just a battle of attrition and who was going to make the mistake first. When it mattered the most, we made plays. I don't have the words to explain how we won. It was crazy. We're one of the best teams out there when we do it the way we want to do it. We did it right tonight and I'm proud of them for that."
The Belles will now face rival West Texas A&M which has won the previous three matches between the two teams this season and knocked the Belles from the regional tournament in 2012. ASU has been here before, but has never advanced to the national quarterfinals in program history. Winning three sets on Saturday would change that.