On the brink of suffering their first West Region setback, the Mandan Braves battled back.
Trailing for most of the fifth game of their first-place showdown with Bismarck on Thursday night at the Mandan High School gym, the Braves erased a big deficit with a late surge to remain unbeaten in regional play.
The Braves scored the final seven points of the match, earning a 25-20, 22-25, 23-25, 25-18, 16-14 victory and handing the Demons their first regional loss.
“I think we just needed to step in and fight,” Braves coach Anna Folk said. “I think we were a little too tunnel-visioned a few times, where we were focusing on our own exact play and not the team around us -- not the people around us or teammates or whatever. I asked them to fight and step in and be a competitor and they did that. Instead of rolling over and calling it quits, they stepped in and wanted to fight back.”
Bismarck jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the decisive fifth, built a lead of 12-7 on a kill and an ace from Olivia Dickerson and a Callie Stonecipher kill.
The Demons were on the verge of closing out a win when Savanna Herslip and Macy Wetsch recorded back-to-back kills for a 14-9 lead.
But Mandan battled back, reeling off five straight points to tie it at 14-14 -- the first tie of the game since 1-1 -- and took the lead for the first time in the game at 15-14 before a Laykn Darras kill scored the game and match point.
Darras posted a match-high 20 kills to go along with 2.5 blocks, 17 digs and an ace to lead the way for Mandan (7-2, 3-0 West Region).
“Lakyn stepped up big to kind of set the tone but she set the tone for everybody else to step up big,” Folk said. “We had some really great team play. Our bench was awesome tonight. They were talking, telling them what’s open, they were just as into the game as the players on the court. It was a total team win, for sure.”
Taylor Leingang added 20 kills and Rylee Hoesel seven for the Braves. Piper Harris had a team-high 29 digs, Sydney Gustavsson dished out 43 assists and Leingang had two aces.
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“Both teams made a few errors and kind of crucial, critical errors at times and we both made some really great defensive plays and some really big plays at the right times, too,” Folk said. “And we just came out a few points ahead at the end.”
Mandan started strong, winning a back and forth first game 25-20. Leingang put down a kill on game point to finish off a battle that saw 11 ties -- the last at 13-13 -- and six lead changes. Mandan took the lead for good on an ace by Darras during a 7-1 Braves run that turned a 12-11 BHS lead into a five-point Mandan edge at 18-13.
BHS took the next two games, 25-22 and 25-23. Mandan took an early 6-1 lead in the second but Macy Wetsch had three aces -- she finished with eight on the night -- during a five-point spurt that gave the Demons the lead for good at 20-18.
The Demons led 15-8 in the third before Mandan came back. The game was knotted up at 20-20 before BHS finished on a 5-3 run.
Wetsch had a strong all-around game for BHS (7-4, 3-1 West Region), finishing with 14 kills, 19 digs, two assists, 0.5 blocks and eight aces.
Callie Stonecipher had 13 kills and 4.5 blocks, Olivia Dickerson added 11 kills, two aces 14 digs. Bre Madler finished with 21 assists and Mia Hinsz added 19. Mallory Henriksen posted a match-high 30 digs.
Mandan forced a fifth game by grabbing an early 5-1 lead and building a 17-10 advantage en route to a 25-18 win in the fourth.
“We knew Bismarck was coming off a couple good wins against Century and Jamestown and we had some really good games with St. Mary’s and Legacy and we knew it was going to be a battle,” Folk said. “They’ve got a great offensive team and I think our defense held together pretty strong, with a few offensive plays of our own, too. The scores were all close, shows what a good match it was.”
Mandan travels to Williston today, while Bismarck is off until Tuesday, when the Demons host Watford City.