By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON -- Two nights earlier, Effingham County volleyball coach Brittany Lein watched her team fade at the end of a key match.
On Thursday, the Rebels were at their best down the stretch. They won five straight points to complete a two-set sweep of Brunswick, then did the same to hold off upset-minded host South Effingham.
ECHS (9-9, 3-1 Region 2-AAAAAA) defeated the Pirates 25-17, 25-22 and topped the Mustangs 25-19, 25-20 to keep alive a shot at the No. 1 seeding in the region tournament.
The Rebels, who have won nine of 12 matches after Thursday’s sweep, can clinch the top seed by defeating both Bradwell Institute and Statesboro (undefeated in the region) Tuesday at ECHS.
“I didn’t think we played very well, but the girls turned it on when they had to,” said Lein about her players’ late-match heroics Thursday.
The Rebels were staring at a potential third-set tiebreaker against vastly improved Brunswick before rallying from a 22-20 second-set deficit with five straight points behind Hayley Sexton’s serves.
Against South Effingham, ECHS led 20-19 in the first set and was tied 20-20 in the second set. Cailin Pritchard had a big hit for a winner to highlight the late five-point run in the first set and Madeline Neal broke the second-set deadlock with a smash at the net.
Pritchard ended the night with a kill, eradicating the Mustangs’ hopes for a first win.
“I think we came into it watching how (SEHS) played Brunswick and knowing their record, but rivalry games are tough,” Lein said. “I’m happy we won.”
South (0-10) began the night falling to Brunswick 25-18, 25-15 but displayed some fight by reeling off eight straight points in the opening set with the Pirates.
The Mustangs threw a scare into ECHS with a five-point run to tie the second set 19-19.
“The intensity level, it gets in the girls’ heads and that’s when they step down, but I was proud of them tonight,” SEHS first-year coach Jenna Gerbasi said. “We were holding on the whole time (against the Rebels). I think this was the best they’ve played. The first match against Brunswick, we were a little shaky, but after that we played better.”
The Rebels opened region play on Sept. 9 with a tough 26-24, 25-23 win over Glynn Academy. In the second match, ECHS lost the first set against Richmond Hill 25-23 before being blown out 25-14 in the second set.
Glynn beat Richmond Hill to start the day.
“It was a high emotional night for all three teams, but I think we just lost steam (against Richmond Hill),” Lein said. “We can’t do that again. Statesboro is a team that beat us (15-7 in a third-set tiebreaker in a non-region match earlier in the season) so we have to find a way to turn that around.”