THOMAS — There's an ages old coaching cliche that says we play them one point at a time. On Tuesday night, that statement couldn't have been more profound as the Snake River Panthers literally took it to the Bear Lake Bears one point at a time down the stretch as they advanced to the fifth district title game with a thrilling come from behind victory 25-23, 25-12, 24-26, 21-25 and 16-14..
"That was it. That was never say die," Snake River head coach Shelli VanOrden said. "I'm so happy and proud of these girls. They never quit playing and fought all the way through to the end."
Indeed, the Panthers could have called it a night as they trailed 8-14 in the fifth and deciding game. Not on this night though. Not in the Panthers fortress of fortitude. After a crucial side out, the Panthers sent sophomore Brylie Bair to the service line with the game hanging in the balance.
"I had the game in my hands," Bair said. "I knew that I could finish it. It was my job to serve and I knew what I had to do. I felt the pressure but my team were counting on me so I just kept focused and tried to put in good serves."
On each serve the pressure that was on Bair slowly began to shift to the Bears side of the court as the Panthers commenced their comeback one point at a time. A pair of seniors stood out over the next 8-points as Kenzie Taylor, who finished with 49 assists on the evening, took pass after pass and then cooly fed them to Jocelyn Harper on the left side of the court where Harper just simply bombed away at the Bear defense for 5 of her game high 27 kills on the night. As the large Panther crowd screamed at the top of their lungs, Harper pounded home one last winner for the thrilling 16-14 victory.
"I know that the entire gym thought that we were done, that we were out of it," Coach VanOrden said. "Brylie was huge for us and it just goes to show you that your never out as long as you just don't quit."
As thrilling as the nights festivities were it was nearly a ho-hum sweep by the Panthers as they took out the Bears in the first two games and were just one point away from sweeping the Bears as they served for the match at 24-23 in the third game.
Bear Lake turned in a run of their own at that point as they displayed their own never say die attitude for a 3-0 run and a win to extend the match to a fourth game. That momentum spilled over into the fourth game as they outlasted the Panthers 25-21 setting the stage for the outstanding finish.
"Honestly I am so happy with a win like this," Coach VanOrden said. "We learned a heck of a lot more tonight from a hard match like this than if we would have swept them. It's a match like this that prepares us for state."
That trip to state has yet to be solidified however as the Panthers will now wait till Thursday where they will battle either this same Bear Lake squad or a pesky Marsh Valley team.
More than likely it will be the Bears though and the Panthers will have the advantage as Bear Lake will need to beat Snake River twice on Thursday if they want to steal away the district title.
"We will see them again on Thursday and like I've said before coach Cammack is the best coach in the conference and I am sure that they will be ready to play," Coach VanOrden said.
The highly anticipated match up will begin at 6:30 in the main gym at Snake River.