MURFREESBORO — Down three times but not out, Father Ryan is closing in on another state volleyball tournament.
The determined Irish fought back in all three games against region rival Ensworth and pulled out a 25-22, 26-24, 25-19 semifinal victory Wednesday afternoon at Blackman High. The win shoved the Irish into the DII-AA winners bracket finals.
Ryan (39-8) which is closing in on its fifth state title, fourth in DII, will play St. Benedict Thursday at 6 p.m., at MTSU with that winner getting a ticket to finals. St. Benedict knocked off Baylor, winning 19-17 in the deciding fifth game.
Ryan has finished runnerup the past two years, both times to Chattanooga GPS, a team the Irish beat in sectionals.
Ensworth led early on in all three games and built a 22-16 lead in the second game, which went to 24-20, apparently ready to even the match. But staring at four game points, Ryan senior Ellen Mullins calmly served out six straight to tame the Tigers (15-7).
“You just take a deep breath and serve,’’ said Mullins. “You try to serve a deep ball, then have the confidence that our defense and blockers will do the job, and they all did.
“My favorite part of the game is playing defense, but I guess today, I would have to say serving,’’ she said, laughing.
Ryan beat Ensworth four straight times this season, but all have been competitive matches. “We’re 4-0 against them, but they had a different lineup each time, and we had to adapt in each match,’’ Mullins said.
Senior Kristen Sharp led the Irish with 13 kills, while Mullins had 11. Shannon Carr and Laura Ellis both had nine blocks. Senior Taylor Heim had 16 digs.
Although pleased with her team’s “down but not out,’’ rally mindset, Ryan Coach Jinx Cockerham was not elated with some aspects of the win.
“Our blocking left a lot to be desired, and we will get that corrected,’’ she promised. “But the good part is we stayed focused and we didn’t panic. Ensworth is a good team which is on the rise.’’
Tiger coach Eva Lea is the architect of that Ensworth upward march. She has taken the school to its first state tourney after six seasons, getting there after rallying to beat Briarcrest on the road in sectionals after losing the first two games. Seniors Jamie Allsmiller and Genny Mayden sparked Ensworth Wednesday.
“We’ve been good at digging out of holes a lot this season, but we couldn’t do it against Ryan,’’ Lea said. “They are veteran, disciplined team which stays very poised no matter what. Once we got Jamie back (strained bicep muscle), we became stronger.’’
CPA advances in AA: Christ Presbyterian Academy, making its second straight state tournament appearance, fought off a fierce rally by Stone Mountain to reach the Class AA semifinals. The Lions rolled early, but wound up hanging on for a 25-19, 25-19, 19-25, 19-25, 15-10 decision.
“I don’t like roller coaster rides,’’ Coach Pat Perry said, when asked about the up-and-down flow of the match. “It’s not unusual for a team to let down a bit after winning the first two games. But once you get to a fifth game, anything can happen. You have to play strong on every ball, every time.’’
“I’m very excited to be in semifinals,’’ said 5-11 senior blocker Anna Bliss Eberle. “We all pulled together that fifth game and we able to get through it.’’
CPA (33-5) will play Chattanooga Christian in the semifinals Thursday at 9 a.m. at MTSU. That winner advances to the winners bracket final later Thursday.
Finals in all classes are Friday.
Games moved to Thursday: Nashville football games which have been moved up to Thursday night include Lipscomb at East Literature (at old TPS), Cane Ridge at Glencliff, and Hillwood at Overton. After changing earlier, FRA has returned its Senior Night football game against Ezell-Harding back to its original date of 7 p.m. Friday.