Brophy needed to use all of its weapons to stave off a challenge from the Cinderella story of this boys volleyball state tournament.
No. 10 seed Highland even gave fans a set for the ages in Thursday night’s semifinals at Gilbert High School. The Hawks stretched the sixth-seeded Broncos before falling, 25-20, 21-25, 29-27, 25-20.
Brophy returns to Gilbert on Saturday at 7 p.m. to face the No. 5 Tigers for the state championship. The Tigers swept Hamilton in the late semifinal on Thursday.
For Brophy, Nick Benson wasn’t always at the top of his game, but little brother Ryne came up big - particularly in the final set - along with Ryan Dowd and Carson Westerfield.
“Highland really made us work tonight,” Nick Benson said. “We haven’t really seen that yet in the state tournament and we knew Highland was going to push us.”
Brophy had swept both its opponents in the round of 16 and the quarterfinals.
“Poise is everything, that was one thing we said at the beginning of the season. We have to stay poised,” Nick Benson said. “We knew when we got to the state tournament that it would get to that, teams would push us and we knew we had to keep our cool and side out.”
That is why everyone will remember this match for the third set.
After splitting the first two games, Highland stayed with Brophy for much of the third set while its block and setter, Bryce Farabee, fed Jeff Chapman (16 kills) and Jared Greene. It was the same strategy the Hawks did on Tuesday in upsetting No. 2 Corona del Sol in the quarterfinals.
But Highland found itself down 22-18 before it rallied and forced extra points. The Hawks fought off three game-points and came within a hit of pulling off an unlikely victory. Ryne Benson gave Brophy its 28th point, Farabee tipped the ball out and Brophy had 2-1 lead.
“We were just fortunate to squeak that one out,” said Brophy coach Tony Oldani. “We had a different look to our offense (Thursday). It certainly didn’t help that Nick had a below average night for him but it was great to watch Ryne and the middles carry some of that weight.”
The Hawks, who have just two seniors on their roster, were looking to return to the state championship match after a year’s absence. Highland lost to Glendale Deer Valley in 2010.
“We missed a lot of serves and we made a lot of errors,” Highland outside hitter Isaac Turley (14 kills) said. “But we gutted it out until the end. They played out of their minds. They played great.”
Brophy hasn’t been in the state title game since beating Highland in 2006. The Broncos have won three state championships since the sport was sanctioned in 1995.