Thursday night's Sub-section 2AA North championship volleyball match between the Belle Plaine Tigers and the Southwest Christian Stars was not for the faint of heart, particularly if you happened to be a Belle Plaine fan.
In the teams' opening set, the Tigers were mostly on the defensive as the Stars employed a virtually error-free game plan. Finding the dead spaces on the floor when serving, the Stars caught the Tigers on their heels early in the set, causing a Belle Plaine timeout with the score at 8-4 in favor of the Stars.
The Tigers stayed patient but always seemed to be on the losing end of long exchanges, which led to the Stars pulling away late into the set.
The stars finally put the Tigers away after a 6-1 run, ending the opening bout 25-16.
Things began looking up for the Tigers in the second set when a series of key plays demonstrated that the Stars could be caught.
With Belle Plaine trailing 6-7, Tiger McKenna Ziemke finessed a shot into the Stars dead zone during a set that had been a tit-for-tat affair up to that point.
The teams continued to go shot-for-shot until Belle Plaine senior Morgan Kruger fired a shot down the pipe of the Stars to give the Tigers the 10-9 lead.
Late in the set Kruger and fellow hitter Mikayla Coops began finding their rhythm and calibrated their shots.
The Tigers either had the lead or were within 3 points of the Stars, who simply made fewer mistakes during a second set that was the quintessential game of inches. The Tigers ultimately gave up the set, falling 25-22, but the tide was clearly turning for a hungry Belle Plaine squad who were down 2-0.
The Tigers rode their momentum into set three, which could have been their last, and opened things up with a 5-1 run complete with two aces out of Kruger.
Belle Plaine's Lizzie Hilgers came to life up front and mounted several key defensive plays to maintain the Tigers rhythm.
With the Tigers up 11-8, Hilgers threaded the needle with a shot into dead space, putting the Tigers up 12-8 and causing a Stars timeout. Following another Kruger kill, Hilgers scored two more with a deep shot and a stuffed Stars shot at the net.
The Tigers rode the tide and dominated the Stars with a 25-14 victory.
Set four was another game of inches that saw Belle Plaine getting the better of the runs. Belle Plaine's hitters were dialed in, and the back court chemistry was alive and well as the Tigers crept to a 24-23 lead.
The Tigers tied the match up at 2 sets apiece after Leah Lenz won a battle at the net, securing the 25-23 close-out.
The final set had both teams' fan sections on their feet as the teams again went shot-for-shot.
A long volley found the floor in Belle Plaine territory, tying things up at 8 and igniting the Stars.
Things eventually tied back up at 12 points apiece. But a booming kill from Coops to follow that up gave the Tigers the 13-12 lead and set the stage for the final points of the contest.
The Tigers stayed patient as they chipped away at the Stars who began to panic. A pair of routine points for the Tigers sealed the deal, giving the second-seeded Tigers the victory over the top-seeded Stars.
The Tigers are set to play Le Sueur-Henderson on Saturday to determine the Section 2AA championship.
In their last outing, the Tigers unambiguously swept LS-H 3-0, but Belle Plaine Coach Richard Foust has no intentions of underestimating the team that mounted a comeback win over their own over St. Peter on Thursday.
"They looked good tonight," Foust said.
The teams are set to square off at 8 p.m. at Mankato East on Saturday.