Momentum carries South Range past Mineral Ridge

SALEM – Mineral Ridge dominated the fourth game, seemingly having top-seeded South Range in a precarious position.

The fourth-seeded Rams blistered their way to a six-point advantage and seemingly exposed every Raiders’ flaw or unforced error during that run, but it wasn’t enough as South Range rallied to win, 3-1, in a Division III?district semifinal at Salem High School.

McKenzie Garland and Peyton Allen had a combined 51 digs to lead the Rams defense.

South Range (22-2) had back-to-back kills go awry, giving Mineral Ridge an 18-12 lead in Game 4. It seemed destined to go to a fifth and deciding game.

Then, Mineral Ridge (19-5) couldn’t find its rhythm in a sport dictated by momentum. The pendulum swung toward South Range.

“There were some questionable calls at that point,” Mineral Ridge coach Jennifer Staunton said. “It never fails, at least in my experience of coaching, when you get a couple of bad calls, it can change momentum really fast on you.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t get a grip after that.”

Mineral Ridge then called time out after South Range cut the lead to 18-16. But even that didn’t seem to deter South Range’s mojo. It was appropriate the music blaring during the break inside John A. Cabas Gymnasium was Bon Jovi’s “Livin On A Prayer.”

With momentum squarely on South Range’s side, it seemed Mineral Ridge could relate to that song than the Raiders had heard minutes earlier.

“I don’t think it was them. It was more us,” Staunton said. “We didn’t pass. We quit hitting. We quit swinging. We played not to lose and that’s a sure way to lose.”

Instead, it was a new age of sorts as the Raiders went radioactive on the Rams – smashing numerous kills. Ashley Shetter’s 18 and Lynnie Ritter’s 15 paced the way.

Mineral Ridge couldn’t return the ball over the net on the match’s final point – capping a momentous 13-0 run in a 25-20, 20-25, 25-17, 25-18 victory.

South Range coach Rachell Storm-Baker wouldn’t let her team be downtrodden when her team trailed 18-12 in the fourth game. She went up and down her bench and started smiling at her team, wanting them to mimic her facial expression.

“Down 12-18, I made a rule that you couldn’t stay in the huddle or be on the bench unless you were smiling,” Storm-Baker said. “I wanted them to play together, not play nervous – not playing like we had anything to lose. We’re going to work for it no matter what the score was.

“I don’t know if that rule was really in effect. We just ran with it.”

The smiles only took South Range so far. The Raiders’ didn’t take anything for granted as their forte was taking punishing kill attempts and misdirected shots by Mineral Ridge and transforming them into digs and South Range points. Jordan Youngs had 48 digs, while Shetter added 24.

“Defense wins games. That’s what a lot of our last 13 points were about,” Storm-Baker said.

It was far from the last game for most of the Mineral Ridge players – aside from Garland, a senior – the Rams returns in full force.

“They should have a good team next year,” Staunton said.

South Range returns to Salem on Wednesday to face second-seeded Cardinal Mooney in the district final at 6 p.m. The Cardinals beat seventh-seeded Crestview in the first game, 25-17, 24-26, 25-18, 23-13. Earlier this season, the Raiders beat Cardinal Mooney.

“They’re a great team,” Storm-Baker said. “We’re coming in ready, playing our game, running our defense, running our offense.”