6A volleyball — The Blues rally to force a fifth set, then carry the momentum to upset the No. 6 Tigers in the first round of the state playoffs

After digging itself a first-set hole it couldn’t climb out of, Newberg appeared to right the ship over the next two sets of its first-round state playoff game versus visiting St. Mary’s Academy.

The two teams then fought tooth and nail throughout the fourth, but the Tigers put themselves in position to win the set and clinch the match by winning three consecutive points to go up 23-20.

That’s as far as Newberg went, unfortunately, as the Blues rallied to win five straight points to even the match and swing the momentum in their favor for the fifth and deciding set. by: SETH GORDON - Can you dig it? - Junior Rachel Thompson stretches for a dig during Newberg's 3-2 loss to St. Mary's Academy in the first round of the state playoffs Oct. 30 at McGrath Gymnasium.

No. 27 St. Mary’s seized the initiative in the fifth, snapping up the first three points and roaring to a 12-3 lead before coasting the rest of the way to secure the biggest upset of the tournament, a 25-16, 18-25, 23-25, 25-23, 15-6 win over the No. 6 Tigers.

“We went into the fourth strong and when we got to 23 points, we got complacent,” senior Maya Adams said. “We kind of were just letting them start to get momentum on us and that’s what killed us because we weren’t pushing.”

NHS coach Mackenzie Upchurch said her team was just “wound a little tight” early in the first set and by the time they settled into a groove, they were down 18-10.

The Tigers controlled the second set, going on a 12-3 run to pull ahead 17-8 and never looked back.

Newberg (20-3) was steady down the stretch of a highly-entertaining and competitive third set, winning the final two points to break a 23-23 tie.

The Tigers continued to play with the same poise for most of the fourth before the Blues went on their fateful five-point blitz to force the fifth, then saw their resolve fade quickly in the fifth as the points piled up for St. Mary’s.

“After they got the momentum at five points, we kind of just gave it to them,” Adams said. “Once they got to 10 points, we kind of were defeated.”

It was just the third loss of the season for Newberg, which had designs on making it to Liberty High School for the 6A championships this weekend.

One of just two seniors on the team, Adams drew high praise from Upchurch for the leadership she displayed in the loss. Despite the bitter finish, her pride in the team was not diminished.

“We took first in league and we were the underdogs from the beginning,” Adams said. “No one expected that, so that’s a lot to ask for coming from what we had last year. I think it’s a big accomplishment. We wanted to go further, but they deserved it.”

Upchurch lauded senior Emmie Schmidt, who returned to the sport this fall after a two-year absence, but didn’t seem to miss a beat.

“She’s a smart kid and a very good player,” Upchurch said. “I know it’s frustrating, but once they take a step back from the moment, they’re going to be really pleased with what they’ve done. I am. I’m extremely proud of them.”

With most of the roster returning, the Tigers expect to be strong again next year and are viewing the shift to the more competitive Three Rivers League as a positive in terms of preparing for the playoffs.

“Going into the new league, it’s going to be a fresh start with the same team,” Upchurch said. “It’s going to be a higher competitive level, so for us to get ready for that now is exciting.”

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