Irish end Columbian’s season

After two sets of Toledo Central Catholic making a number of key digs and saves, Columbian had a chance to get right back into things.

The Irish led one game to nothing, and the Tornadoes were tied with them in Game 2 at 23.

A ball ricocheted off a Columbian player and was headed toward the stands. TC’s Michaela Sharlow did everything she could to save it, almost going into the bleachers and hitting the ball.

She hit it well. Too well.

The ball sailed over the net, and surely would have been playable except for one thing:

As it ascended, the ball hit a support beam on the ceiling and came right down on Columbian’s side.

“It was one of those nights,” Columbian coach Bill Bonham said after his team fell in the Division II district finals, 25-19, 25-23, 25-14. “We can do everything right, and it wasn’t enough.”

The Irish took comfortable leads in Games 1 and 3, and by the latter stages of those sets, were never really in any trouble. The Tornadoes trailed, 11-9 after a Madison Williams kill in the first game, but then the Irish ran off five of the next six points to go up 16-10, and held on from there.

Toledo Central Catholic coach Jennifer Bronikowski gave credit to her defense.

“It was,” said Bronikowski when it was suggested the digging was strong. “My libero did a great job of coming through with some big plays.”

Bonham said the Irish’s experience is big games was important.

“They did a great job of frustrating us,” he said. “One thing they did tonight, they attacked a lot of balls deep to the floor. We haven’t had a lot of teams do that to us this year, and our defensive players were questioning where they had to move. And as soon as we move them, they throw a tip-in on us.”

Game 2 was Columbian’s big chance. Trailing 5-4, TC’s Haley Sendelbach smashed a kill, then Alyssa Price lined one to give the Tornadoes the lead.

Sendelbach then served a kill to make it 7-5. After an Irish player was called for hitting a ball twice, Price added another kill to make it 9-5.

But Toledo Central Catholic came back with four straight kills to tie it, punctuating the run on a Sierra Sedlak kill.

The Irish regained the momentum, opening up a 17-13 advantage, but the Tornadoes scrambled back, going on an 8-3 run. When Hailee Distel blocked an Irish attack for a point, TC had grabbed a 21-20 lead.

Bronikowski called her first timeout of the game.

“I think our girls just know they have to hold it together,” she said. “You don’t have to be perfect to come back and win the next point.”

Which the Irish did, on a TC service error. The game went back and forth from there, ending on a Kristin Murrell point.

“Whether you win the first game or not, if you can win that second game, you either even it back out, and get that momentum going into Game 3, or you can take a 2-0 lead,” Bonham said. “Unfortunately for us, we just came up a little bit short there.”

Columbian was able to play even with the Irish at the beginning of Game 3 – the game was tied at 6 – but then Toledo Central Catholic pulled away.

Columbian finished its season 15-10.

Bonham said his team has had to work through things since the beginning of the season.

“You bring in a new coaching staff, and you throw change at them,” Bonham said. “Nobody likes change, nobody wants change, change isn’t easy. And we threw it at them and we threw it at them hard. And we got resistance. We got friction back. We got it from the players, we got it from their parents. People accepted us once we came here, but once we started pushing, some people maybe questioned what we were doing. But we fought through it. We held to our ground, and we weren’t gonna back down as coaches; we thought we were doing the right thing, and the players responded and the parents responded.

“This team went through so much adversity this season, and the roller coasters up and down … the win or loss doesn’t matter. They got here.”

Toledo Central Catholic (15-9) advances to the Ontario regional, where it will play Celina Thursday.