By the fifth game of a Class 4A first-round playoff match, it was clear to host Blythewood that Northwestern was not going to go down easy.
The host Bengals, the No. 2 seed in Region 4 and the state's fourth-ranked squad, and the Trojans had played four topsy-turvy games
So Blythewood coach Mary Hall was relieved but not surprised when the Bengals rallied from a five-point deficit early in the fifth game and fought to a 15-13 win to take the match 3-2 (25-20, 18-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-13).
"When we had all those ups and downs, I was trying to allow them to dig out of their own hole and see how good they really are," said Hall, whose team is 24-3 in her first season.
The Bengals trailed 6-1 to start the final game but chipped away at their deficit. Having won four consecutive points and with Ashley Williams serving, Blythewood tied the score at 9 before the Trojans broke serve.
Andrea Keesee's service gave the Bengals their first lead, at 11-10, but Northwestern responded with a three-point run, and the Bengals trailed 13-12 when they got the ball back after a Meredith Jones kill-block.
Jones served to match point, and the Bengals rushed the court when the ball fell dead on the Northwestern side of the net on the final point.
"I knew they could do it," Hall said. "I'd seen them do it before."
Still, it was hard at times for the Bengals to believe they would win.
Northwestern came out cool and composed. Though they struggled initially, falling into a four-point hole early in the first game, the Trojans turned things around when they settled down. Northwestern, the No. 3 seed, worked its way to a 15-11 lead as the Bengals lost their steam.
"That's where experience comes in," Trojans coach Cesar Robles said. "We were able to take the lead a few times, but we couldn't hold it."
With two kills by Vicky Harley, Blythewood regained the lead at 20-19. In spite of strong efforts up front from Northwestern's Savannah Angel and Alex Angel, the Bengals served out for the win.
But in the second game, the Trojans led by as much as 10 by playing crisply, while the Bengals struggled to keep balls in play.
"We knew the key to beating Blythewood was going to be to limit our mistakes, and we did that for the most part," Robles said.
Down 2-1 in the match, the Trojans stuck with their controlled game to force a fifth game, and Robles implored his young team to believe it could win.
Hall told her team the same thing.
"Ultimately, it came down to the fact it seemed like Northwestern was playing not to lose. We had to play to win," she said.
Northwestern ended its season at 8-9. The Bengals travel to Dorman for Thursday's second-round match.
Blythewood 3, Northwestern 2
25-20, 18-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-13
Individual leaders: N - Alex Angel 5 kills; Jillian Clinton 8 digs; Savannah Jones 4 aces; Emily Marks 7 assists. B - Caleen Hawkins 3 kills, 3 aces, 38 assists; Murphye Williams 13 kills; Courtney Williams 5 blocks.