DECATUR — Mount Zion fought off the ghosts of postseasons past.
No. 1 Mount Zion edged out No. 8 Charleston 23-25, 25-14 and 25-22 and escaped the same fate as last year in the Class 3A regional semifinal at MacArthur High School on Tuesday.
The Braves struggled to put away the Trojans throughout the night, conjuring bad memories from last year when Mahomet-Seymour wrecked their 30-6 season to start the postseason.
Still, Mount Zion mustered just enough to set up Thursday's regional title match against Tolono Unity, which dispatched MacArthur in straight sets 25-18 and 25-19.
“That's always in the back of your mind when things aren't going your way,” Mount Zion coach Jay McAtee said. “I think it was a big wake up call for the girls of what they're going to get in the playoffs.”
Mount Zion (33-3) managed substantial leads in all three sets, but Charleston strung together a couple of long rallies to get within reach of an upset.
The Braves rolled to a 22-16 lead in the first set.
That suddenly vanished after a surprising 9-1 run by the Trojans to snatch it away.
Charleston junior setter Natalie Gordon was a major catalyst, distributing the ball to the Wilson hitters, Makenna and Kaleigh.
Gordon assisted Makenna on the left side to grab a stunning 24-23 lead and then dumped the final point in the middle of Mount Zion's defense.
Gordon totaled 32 assists and four kills while Makenna and Kaleigh Wilson had 10 and eight kills, respectively. Rainer Fuller Moore also contributed eight kills for the Trojans, who finished the season 9-23.
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“We played a little tentative tonight,” Mount Zion senior outside hitter Erin Ripple said. “It's win or go home in regionals. We just didn't come as prepared as we should've tonight. A win's a win and we'll be better on Thursday.”
Charleston wasn't as sharp in the second set and fell behind as much as 22-9.
Mount Zion's momentum carried over in the third set. The Braves jumped to a 12-6 lead, primarily led by the standout Ripple.
The University of Illinois-Springfield commit was just too overpowering for the Trojans and finished with 18 kills, four aces and three blocks. Sophomore setter Ali Vaughn had 37 assists.
“I could've done better the whole game,” Ripple said. “I was getting nervous and I think everyone was a little nervous tonight. It was personally not my best game, but we won.”
Charleston recaptured its rhythm near the end to almost come away with the match, twice coming just one point away from a tie — the last when Ripple tipped the ball out of bounds for a 23-22 deficit.
Ripple didn't cave, though.
She bounced back with a critical kill and sealed the victory with a block on the right side of her net against Makenna.
“I just thought we played tense,” Ripple said. “You could tell we were nervous. People were looking at the score too much. We weren't playing to win.
“It was scary. We can't play down to anyone's level. We have to play our game.”