Bedford's Nicole Rightnowar returns the ball.
THE BLADE/LORI KING
Bedford showed plenty of poise and stamina taking on Livonia Stevenson in a Class A state quarterfinal on Tuesday night at Carlson High.
Both were needed in order to survive the marathon nail-biter that concluded with the Mules escaping with a 23-25, 25-19, 25-14, 24-26, 16-14 victory over the Spartans.
PHOTO GALLERY: Bedford girls defeat Livonia
“We just had to believe,” Bedford coach Jodi Manore said.
“I think we were the better team, but I think they played better than us.”
Bedford (65-9-2) could have easily ended up on the other side of the final score after opening the match with a lackluster start that led to the Spartans (41-14-2) taking the first game.
However, the Mules, who reached the state finals a year ago, wouldn’t be denied a return trip to the state semifinals.
Nicole Rightnowar scored the game-winning point in the fifth game with her 12th kill of the match to go along with 28 digs and five blocks.
“We just had to stay tough,” Rightnowar said. “We knew we could beat them since we beat them earlier this season.
“But they were still tough to beat.”
Bedford will face Bloomfield Hills Marian in a state semifinal on Thursday night at Kellog Arena in Battle Creek.
Kayla Gwozdz led the way with 28 kills and Isabelle Marciniak added 13 kills. Maddie Andres provided 35 digs, and Mackenzie Andrews 38 assists for the Mules.
“I just knew we had to be aggressive the entire time and put balls in play,” Gwozdz said of the Mules’ mental approach to getting through the match.
Katie Tomasic paced the Spartans with 21 kills while Amanda Hawkins added nine kills.
Carmen Disler provided 25 assists.
The Mules started the contest slowly, and that led to the Spartans taking the first game by a two-point margin.
It was a game the Mules could have easily taken from the Spartans and gained the early edge in the match. The lead changed hands three times in the first game before the Spartans finally finished it off to grab the early momentum.
Dropping the first game seemed to wake up the Mules, who came out in the second showing a greater sense of urgency on the floor.
Bedford scored the first point in and went on to lead from start to finish to take the second game in rather decisive fashion.
The Mules led by as much as five points before taking the game by six points.
Rightnowar, Marciniak, and Gwozdz became more disruptive to the Spartans near the net.
Mules shots were finding their way to openings on the Spartans’ half of the court, or they screeched over the net at a speed that was too much for the Spartans to cope with.
Bedford came out clicking in the third game, building an early 10-3 advantage with Samantha Brown serving for seven straight points and never looking back to win by 11 points.
The Spartans appeared to be stunned by the Mules’ turnaround after a lackluster start in the first game.
They commenced to make unforced errors they avoided in the first game.
Bedford led the match 2-1 and seemed on course to pull off an impressive recovery by taking three straight games to win the match after losing the first game.
However, the Spartans made it clear in the fourth game they would have a say in the match’s outcome.
Livonia Stevenson showed plenty of fight to pull out the game to send the match into a privitol final game.
The Spartans led the fifth by as many as four points before the Mules rallied back and actually had a chance to close out the match when Gwozdz served with Bedford leading 24-23. The Bedford junior’s serve didn’t clear the net, and the score became locked in a 24-all tie.
“I think my nerves got to me,” Gwozdz said of the serving error.
The Spartans scored the next two points with Abigail Whitehead finishing off the game with a kill shot that slammed into the floor right in front of the Mules’ bench.
The deciding game went back and fourth with both sides owning the lead at different stretches before Bedford finally broke through to score the final point of the match.