PIERCE - In what might have been a preview of next week's subdistrict final, Pierce started from a set down, then rallied to defeat Battle Creek, 21-25, 25-21, 25-9, 25-16 in the championship match of the Mid-State Conference tournament.
"I thought the first set, for sure, our execution was lacking, even all the way through that second set, I thought the same thing," Pierce coach Zach Weber said. "We kind of made a couple of plays there late, to separate ourselves, but what really changed us in that third and fourth sets was execution."
The visitors from Fightin' River came out on fire in the first set, scoring 10 of the first 12 points that included two Paytyn Taake ace serves and a pair of Reagan Brummels kills.
The Bravettes maintained at least a five-point advantage until the Bluejays made a run late. Two Elly Piper kills and three Battle Creek errors pulled Pierce within 24-21 before Mya Zohner won it for BC with a kill to put the purple and gold up one set to none.
"I was really happy with how we played at the start of the game," Battle Creek coach Cody Wintz said. "Pierce is a great team and we limited how often they could get their attacks off in that first and most of that second set."
Weber agreed. "Give credit to Battle Creek, they stopped our outsides. It's kind of no secret, we like our outside hitters a lot."
The second set was close throughout with eight ties and six lead changes. A Brummels block for Battle Creek tied it up at 20 when Weber called time out.
"He told us to keep our heads up and have the mindset that we wanted to be the first team of Pierce to win a conference championship," Bluejay outside Kennedy Warneke said.
Pierce answered with a 5-1 run to close out the frame, highlighted by a kill and a block from Elly Piper as well as Brielle Unseld's ace serve to even the match at a set apiece.
"The first set and a half, we were floundering, trying to figure ourselves out and trying to settle into the game but once we did, obviously, it worked out well for us," Weber said.
The Bluejays used the momentum they mustered at the end of the second set to dominate the third. Pierce rolled with runs of 6-1 and 9-0 en route to the 25-9 pasting and a two sets to one lead.
"We were serving much better. We were getting ourselves in system much more often. Our hitting percentages were way up because of it," Weber said.
Wintz said his team became tentative. "It got a little chaotic on our side of the net, so we started sending free balls and they just pounded away and that puts a lot of pressure on our side."
The onslaught continued into the fourth set. A Warneke service ace capped off a 11-1 run to put the Bluejays up 13-2.
Pierce continued to cruise and led 21-10 when Wintz used his final time out.
"We just put up a goal, 'Let's get to 15,' and then we put a little pressure on them there to close it out," Wintz said.
Battle Creek did put up six of the next eight points to cut the lead to 23-16 before a Warneke kill and Bravette net violation ended the set and match at 25-16.
Warneke led a balanced Pierce attack with 12 kills while four other Bluejays - Jaya Wachholtz, Maggie Painter, Elly Piper and Jozy Piper all recorded between seven and 11.
"I thought (setter) Brielle (Unseld) made some very good reads," Weber said. "She got our hitters on the right and the middle in a lot of one-on-ones. We definitely have the personnel that can take care of that, for sure."
Unseld finished with an amzaing 45 set assists, an especially high number for just a four-set match.
Warneke and Morgan Moeller both recorded three ace serves while Elly Piper finished with four blocks and Jozy, two.
On the Battle Creek side of the stat sheet, Mya Zohner led the team with 10 kills and two ace servces. Kaitlyn Pochop also had a pair of aces along with 30 set assists while Lily Knull stepped up on the defensive end with five blocks.
Earlier in the night, Norfolk Catholic earned fifth place with a straight-sets victory over Wayne before Crofton came from a set down to defeat Guardian Angels Central Catholic for third.
Both Pierce and Battle Creek will participate in the Class C1 subdistrict tournament that gets underway on Monday in Pierce. Fourth-seeed Bancroft-Rosalie/Lyons-Decatur takes on Winnebago in the opener with the winner playing Pierce later in the evening in one semifinal.
Battle Creek takes on Wayne in the other semi. "Wayne's going to be a tough opponent," Wintz said. "We've played them in the subdistrict every year the past three years, so we know it will be a challenge. They're a conference foe. They know what we do; we know what they do, so we're going to have to step up and play really well."
PIERCE DEFEATS BATTLE CREEK 21-25, 25-21, 25-9, 25-16
PIERCE (24-5): Kayla Knox 1a; Jaya Wachholtz 11k, 1b; Kennedy Warneke 12k, 3a, 1b; Brielle Unseld 1k, 45s, 1a; Morgan Moeller 1s, 3a; Maggie Pointer 8k, 1a; Elly Piper 9k, 4b; Jozy Piper 7k, 2b.
BATTLE CREEK (22-8): Paytyn Taake 2s, 2a; Mya Zohner 10k, 1a, 1b; Addi Taake 4k, 2a, 1b; Lily Knull 5k, 5b; Kenna Pochop 6k, 1b; Kaitlyn Pochop 30s, 2a; Reagan Brummels 7k, 1b.