Points were tough to come by, the digs were easily outnumbering the kills, and Flowery Branch was keeping North Hall at arm’s length.
A few minutes later, the rout was on.
The Lady Trojans stormed back to win the first game, then rolled to their second consecutive region title, 3-0 (25-23, 25-8, 25-16) at North Hall High.
"I think after they got their nerves settled and realized they were here to play ball, they hit another gear," North Hall coach Debbie Wiley said of her players. "I mean, they took it to another gear at the end of (the first game) and the second game, and the third game."
Said tournament MVP Katie Spell: "I guess we just had to get our momentum going, and once we did, we kept it going. I guess we just had to see that we could get the lead and we really could do it."
Maybe it was getting over a case of the nerves, or maybe it was pulling momentum to their side.
Or maybe it was both.
Whatever the case, once North Hall evened the score at 17 in the first game on a thunderous Spell spike, the energy swung in the Lady Trojans’ favor. And after a pair of Lady Falcon errors broke a 23-23 tie and gave the first game to North Hall, the contest was never again in doubt.
Spell and fellow senior Caroline Coker — the MVP of last year’s area tournament — dominated play at the net and sent Flowery Branch scrambling for every point. Spell finished with 4.5 blocks and seven kills, while Coker accounted for 3.5 blocks, nine kills and two aces.
It was a stark contrast from Thursday night’s match between these two teams. The Lady Falcons, who have been ranked as high as No. 8 in the state this season, entered the region tournament as the No. 5 seed before reeling off three straight wins, including one over North Hall 2-0 (25-22, 25-15) to advance to the finals.
"It looked like I had a new team tonight, didn’t it?" Wiley said. "I’m not sure of the difference — I think they came in to the house tonight a little more determined, a little better focused, a little sharper on their hitting, a step quicker to the digs. They just brought their whole game with them and it made a huge difference."
Beset by their own sloppy play, and a slew of aces by North Hall’s Danielle Hollander, Flowery Branch was never close in the second game. Hollander finished the night with eight assists.
"It seemed like everything North Hall was touching was gold," Flowery Branch coach Bryan Mavis said. "We just couldn’t find our spots on the court tonight and then we got frustrated and started making mistakes."
The Lady Falcons fell behind early again in the third game, but made one final push midway through the frame.
After Flowery Branch scored four straight points to trim North Hall’s lead to 13-10, Spell ended the run with a well-placed shot hit softly over the Lady Falcons’ front line. It was a rare departure from the forceful net play that Spell and the Lady Trojans thrived on throughout the match.
"(Spell) doesn’t usually put them down lightly," Wiley said. "She usually hits them with force and that just fires everybody up."
Both teams, along with No. 3 seed West Hall and No. 4 seed West Forsyth advance to Saturday’s Class AAA North Sectionals. At Westminster High School, No. 1 seed North Hall will face Jordan at 4:30 p.m. and No. 2 Flowery Branch will meet Hardaway at 10:30 a.m. Meanwhile at Riverwood High School, West Hall gets Harris County at 9 a.m., and West Forsyth takes on Columbus at 3 p.m.
Mavis didn’t seem too worried about his team’s pysche heading into its first postseason since 2005.
"By Monday, we’ll be OK," he said.
North Hall meanwhile, is looking to improve on its early exit from last year’s playoffs.
"I think last year we didn’t really know what to expect past the first round," Spell said. "This year, we’ve got eight seniors on the team, and every one of us is ready."