On a night when Mount Hebron and Centennial played inspired volleyball for two pulsating hours, homestanding Hebron had the final word and dethroned the defending county champion Eagles.
And the Vikings did it by erasing an 8-2 deficit in the fifth game with a decisive nine-point run, before putting Centennial away with a 15-11 victory.
No single player stole the show for the Vikings, but in the final game seniors Melissa Murdza and Cescili Drake stepped forward when it appeared Hebron was fading for good. With Murdza serving and setting beautifully, Drake found openings in Centennial's defense with five kills that helped Hebron surge to an 11-8 lead. Tracy Porter's kill gave Hebron a 14-10 lead and a match-point opportunity. Andrea Day finished the comeback with a kill down the middle.
The victory was huge in many ways for Hebron, which entered the match having already clinched a tie for the county championship with Centennial.
Hebron won the title outright and finished the regular season with a 14-1 record. It also picked up more momentum for the Class 2A, Region II playoffs. The top-seeded Vikings will play host to an undetermined fourth-seeded semifinal opponent Wednesday, tentatively at 5 p.m.
The Vikings also settled a score with Centennial, and with themselves.
Less than four weeks ago, Hebron walked out of Centennial's gym on the humiliating end of a three-game blowout -- a victory that at that time had kept Centennial's unbeaten streak alive.
Since then, the two teams have veered in different directions.
Hebron, stung by its embarrassing defeat, immediately started building another winning streak. Friday night's victory marked the Vikings' seventh straight.
Centennial, though, has been the most surprising team of the season's second half. The Eagles suffered losses to Glenelg and Howard and needed five games to beat Atholton and Oakland Mills before Hebron beat them Friday. The Eagles are still headed to the Class 3A, Region I playoffs -- as second seed, they will entertain Liberty Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. -- but they wound up their regular season with what, for them, is a disappointing 12-3 record.
"But this is the first time we've lost and felt good," said Centennial coach Bill Shook. "We played well, but Mount Hebron's attack is 80 percent better than it was the last time we faced them. They weren't afraid to hit it at us. They've definitely worked hard in the second half. I guess this proves winning the first half of the season doesn't make a county champion."
The Vikings sent early signals that this was a different team than the one Centennial faced last month.
They attacked the net aggressively from the outset, taking a 7-1 lead in the opening game, before four straight kills by Andrea Day gave Hebron a 12-5 cushion. A blocking point by Brooke Christopher -- who teamed with Jen Dohler and Porter to frustrate Centennial defensively at the net all night -- finished the 15-7 victory.
Hebron then put Centennial on the brink of defeat with a hard-fought 15-11 victory in game two, a game that featured numerous long volleys, terrific defense and diving saves by both teams.
Centennial came alive to take a 7-2 lead in game three. Hebron eventually pulled to 13-11, but the Eagles' Sang Kim finished the game with two aces. In game four, Centennial's Laura Taneyhill and Shannon Saltzmann had too much firepower for the Vikings to handle, as the Eagles cruised to leads of 6-0 and 11-2 before dispatching Hebron, 15-7.
Hebron looked physically beat as it took the floor for the deciding game, which made its comeback all the more improbable.
"I was scared about our endurance when we went to that fifth game," said Hebron coach Jeannine McCrumb. "We were tired."
Then Murdza and Drake took over.
"Throughout the season we've had trouble coming back," said Drake, who became a starter shortly after the first Centennial match. "Now we know if we stay positive, keep battling and keep our confidence, we can do it. This was a humongous boost."