With quick reflexes and sure hands, Nation Ford sophomore Caylee Antilley pushed the Lady Falcons into the Class AAA state championship match on Saturday.
Antilley scored the match-winning point for Nation Ford in the third set of the Upper State championship against Daniel, as she pushed a shot over the net just out of the reach of the Lady Lions' players to give the Lady Falcons a 25-23 win.
Nation Ford, 28-4, won its fourth straight playoff game in straight sets by beating Daniel 3-0 (25-14, 25-19, 25-23). Antilley had 12 kills, six aces and five digs. Senior Sara Bebeau had another double-double, with 16 kills and 13 digs. Senior Shelia Walsh had 36 assists and four digs.
The win allowed Nation Ford, ranked No. 1 in its classification, to get over the hurdle the Lady Falcons failed to clear last season, by making it to the championship Saturday at White Knoll High School. Opening serve is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. The Falcons will play the winner of North Myrtle Beach, ranked fourth, or Hilton Head, ranked sixth.
Last year, the Lady Falcons lost to eventual state champion Dorman on the road in the Upper State match. This time, Nation Ford had home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Lady Falcons coach Carrie Christian is confident that her squad can hold its own with any team.
"If we step up and play our game, we can beat anyone," she said.
Daniel came into the match ranked second in the state with a 26-9 record and was the defending Class AAA state champs. The Lady Lions held the top ranking for most of the season before being knocked off the perch by Nation Ford a couple weeks ago.
In the first set, both teams struggled to get an advantage on the other. Nation Ford took a slight 6-4 lead, but allowed Daniel to tie it at 6-6.
The Lady Falcons' net play was key early as they took a 9-6 lead and forced Daniel to take a time out. When time resumed, Nation Ford exploded with six straight points to push the score to 15-6 as Antilley rocked the ball over the net serve after serve after serve.
"She is always cool and calm under pressure," Christian said of Antilley.
Nation Ford continued to dominate early and held a 21-10 lead before Daniel crawled back into the match to make it 23-14, before the Lady Falcons could finish things out.
In the second set, Daniel made the necessary adjustments and again neither team got an early advantage on the other.
Nation Ford took a 9-7 lead, but Daniel hung close, tying the score at 12, before Nation Ford again broke free to take another three-point lead.
The Lady Falcons never broke stride despite the Lady Lions consistently pushing them and clawing onward to tie the game. Nation Ford held on for the slim six-point win.
In the third set, Nation Ford started out down 5-1 and had to play from behind much of the game. Nation Ford fought back to tie the score at 6-6 and kept on the heels of Daniel.
The Lady Falcons once again tied the set at 11 and then again at 14 as the two teams traded points back and forth. Nation Ford finally put together several good points and took a small, 18-14 lead.
Christian was consistently off the bench yelling instructions to her squad.
"I was reminding them of the things we always do," she said. "Telling them to play their game."
Daniel chipped away and again tied it at 21. Nation Ford scored two quick points and forced a time out by Daniel.
Coming out of the time out, Daniel got those two points back forcing the Lady Falcons to call a time out, which led to the eventually final two game winning points by Nation Ford and the shot from Antilley.