Basha won game three of its Division I first-round playoff game at Peoria Centennial on a controversial call Tuesday. In doing so, the Bears may have lost the war.
Centennial appeared to have won a point to tie the swing game at 24. But Basha coach Terri Spann continued to ask the referees about two points prior, when she believed senior Madeline Mertz stepped over the back row attack line.
The officials agreed, saying a call like that could be overturned because the down referee made the ruling. Basha received a point and won the game, 25-23.
But the Coyotes upped their game a few notches from there, while Basha began to make errors Spann attributed to inexperience and pressure. No. 7-seed Centennial dominated the final two games to advance with a 14-25, 26-24, 23-25, 25-12, 15-5 victory over Basha.
The Coyotes will play at No. 2 Hamilton in Thursday night's quarterfinals.
"That's the difference of experienced players in the sport compared to younger, non-club players," Spann said. "I'm very proud of (our team). We did what we could and they competed well. Maddie Mertz is a phenomenal senior leader and that showed against our youth."
No. 10 Basha (22-17) knocked off the Coyotes in a tense three-game sweep in September, winning 25-23, 25-18, 32-30. The visitors' control continued early on Tuesday night as the Bears cruised to a first-game win.
After falling behind 21-19 on senior Kayla Dallman's second-game kill, the Bears nearly took command. Junior middle blocker Alexa Johnson blasted home a point for a 24-22 Basha lead.
Then, the Coyotes scrambled and erased their mental block against Basha in the process. Dallman's block and two Mertz kills gave them game point and a spike out of bounds tied the match.
"All the doubts came back. To finally win that close game, the girls were like, 'Yes we can come out on top,'" Centennial coach Carly Bourland said.
Johnson (four kills, two blocks, service ace) and sophomore Justine Spann (four kills, service ace) steadied the Bears in game three.
After that, though, the wheels came off. A mistake in the rotation order gave the Coyotes a 1-0 lead before game four began.
Centennial ripped off five straight points to gain a 14-5 advantage, as sophomore Makenna Schmitt - a junior varsity player most of the season - knocked down two of her set-high five kills. Basha couldn't get closer than six points the rest of the game.
A pair of Bears errors and Dallman's ace drove the Coyotes to a 6-0 lead in the final game. Again, Basha never really threatened.
Two straight Mertz kills - the second coming cross count into the corner - built a 13-4 cushion. Senior Lindsay Miller responded with a spike.
But a cannon blast from senior Summer Eaton and Dallman's smash off the Bears block sealed the victory. Bourland said the power display was a direct result of her defense getting a read on Basha's attack angles.
"We finally figured out where their outsides were placing the ball. They're very smart and they're very well coached. They were putting it in the spot where our defense wasn't designed to cover," Bourland said. "Once we figured out that deep corner shot, we were able to keep the ball in play. It was finally playing to our potential instead of playing a bit afraid."
The manner of the loss stung, but Basha can take many positives from this match and season. It's a young squad, with Miller the only senior in Tuesday's rotation.
Senior middle blocker Briielle Breland and junior outside hitter Yasamin Motlagh missed the playoffs with injuries. Spann, a first-year coach, said the program has a lot to look forward to.
"We don't match up physically with them. So to take this team to five, I'm very proud of what we were able to do." Spann said.