The Greyhounds outlasted No. 3 Monroe in five sets behind Mackenzie Berger's big night.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Gaston senior Mackenzie Berger (22) falls to her knees as her teammates swarm her following the match-winning kill in the 2A semifinal against Monroe. Berger had a total of 29 kills on the night to lead all players.After being pushed to the brink in an epic five-set tilt with No. 3 Monroe Friday night, Nov. 5, the Gaston Greyhounds are heading to the 2A Volleyball State Championship match.

The second-ranked Greyhounds were led by the efforts of 6-foot-3 senior middle blocker Mackenzie Berger, whose 29th and final kill of the night was also the match-winner in the 21-25, 25-23, 25-18, 16-25, 17-15 thriller.

By the time Berger's feet came back down to the hardwood, the senior had already realized she and her team had just won the match and were moving on. Berger crumpled to the ground in a mixture of relief, exhaustion and joy as her teammates descended upon her in celebration.

"That last play was so nerve-wracking," said Berger after the match. "Any little thing could have caused us to lose. I'm just really proud of everyone for pulling together and fighting together for that win."

Just moments earlier, Monroe (21-4, 14-0) held a 15-14 lead in the fifth set and looked poised to advance to the championship match. The Dragons' top attacker, junior Bella Gamache, had just spiked down her 22nd kill of the match.

Gaston, which had led two sets to one earlier in the match and 5-0 during the fifth set, suddenly appeared devoid of any momentum.

"Normally, we don't play like that," said Berger of Gaston (22-1, 16-0) losing its focus and giving up the lead. "I felt like we were really having to pull out all the stops."

The Greyhounds needed a big play — and their star senior gave them one.

When Gamache went in for the kill on Monroe's match point, Berger met her at the apex and blocked the shot for a kill of her own. After Gamache's next attack went just long, it was the Greyhounds who were now on the verge of going to the championship match.

Moments later, it was official. The Greyhounds will be playing for a state title on Saturday, Nov. 6.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Mackenzie Berger (22) screams in celebration toward the Gaston supporters that made the trip to Redmond for the Greyhounds' semifinal win over Monroe. No. 2 Gaston will play No. 1 Salem Academy for the championship."It's so special to me, especially because there are only two other seniors with me on the team," said Berger, who is joined by fellow 12th-graders Grace Smith and McKenzi Tucker.

"I don't play any other sports," Berger added, "so this is really our last hurrah together, to play together and fight together as a team."

Monroe won the opening set, but then dropped the next two as Gaston established its attack. The Dragons responded with an impressive 25-16 fourth-set win and were riding high going into the tiebreaking fifth set.

When the match was on the line, however, it was Berger who stepped up and brought her team one step closer to hanging a championship banner.

The Greyhounds will play No. 1 Salem Academy (26-2, 16-0) in the OSAA 2A Volleyball State Championship final on Saturday, Nov. 6. Just prior to the Gaston-Monroe match, the Crusaders prevailed over No. 4 Grant Union (23-11, 10-2), winning the three-setter by a final score of 25-17, 25-23, 25-19.

The 2A championship match will begin at 7 p.m. in the gymnasium at Ridgeview High School in Redmond.

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