Staff Photo: John Bohn North Gwinnett's Kristina Stinson (4) jumps high to make a shot against North Cobb during game one of the second round of the Class AAAAA state volleyball tournament played Tuesday.
SUWANEE -- Playing from behind throughout most of its second-round match of the Class AAAAA state volleyball tournament with North Cobb, North Gwinnett looked like it had finally taken control late.
But after being forced into a fifth and deciding game and falling behind the host Bulldogs 3-1 in it, the visiting Warriors seized momentum back and never let it go.
Tori Forrest and Shauntell Luke led a run of six straight points to break open the final game and lift No. 2 state-ranked North Cobb to a 22-25, 25-17, 25-17, 19-25, 15-6 victory Tuesday at North Gwinnett to advance to the state quarterfinals.
"Volleyball is such a unique sport when it comes to momentum," said North coach Vanessa Henry, whose Bulldogs ended the season at 47-9. "Sometimes when the momentum flows to the other team and they get three or four points, that's what it takes. At this time of the year, you have to be on your game. ... If you're not on your game, three or four points is a lot."
It was an uphill battle most of the night for the Bulldogs, who actually captured Game 1 by a 25-22 score despite trailing most of it, thanks to tough hitting at the net by Kristina Stinson and Anna Mullins, which helped North overcame a late 22-20 deficit.
However, North Cobb (48-9) jumped on the Bulldogs early and often in Games 2 and 3, with Katie O'Rourke pounding down 11 of her match-high 20 kills, while Forrest added seven of her 18 kills and both her service aces on the day during the middle games to lead the Warriors to a two games to one advantage.
But North suddenly sprang to life in Game 4, with North Cobb committing several hitting and serving errors, and Stinson and senior setter Alex Panks setting the tone -- the former with two kills and the latter with an acrobatic, overhead tap -- to give the Bulldogs a big 10-3 lead early on.
North Cobb rallied as close at 23-19 before kills by Mullins and Stinson allowed North to put the game away and force the fifth and deciding game.
"In Game 3, I definitely felt like we'd seized momentum by our strong start and consistent play," North Cobb coach James Auld said. "I was a little surprised by Game 4, not by (North Gwinnett's) effort. I expected that. But I was a little surprised ... a lot of uncharacteristic things the girls haven't done individually all season long. But with three senior captains like (O'Rourke), (setter) Lauren (Schmitz) and (Forrest), I felt confident. I told the girls as long as we come out strong in Game 5, we have the girls to get it done."
It was actually North that came out strong in Game 5, with a head's up tap by Panks and a kill by Howard leading the Bulldogs to a 3-1 advantage.
And after another Panks tap found the floor, the final game was tied at 4-4.
But with the game tied at 5-5, it was all North Cobb the rest of the way. Luke delivered two of her five kills, while North committed three attacking errors over the next six points, allowing the Warriors to take a commanding 11-5 lead.
And after Stinson brought the Bulldogs to within 11-6 on the last of her team-high 18 kills, another three more errors, plus a tap by Schmitz, sealed North's fate.
"I'm real proud of the girls for playing hard every point," Henry said. "Overall, it was a good match. North Cobb definitely played a good match, and we had some little errors here and there that we couldn't recuperate from. But overall, I knew it was going to be a fight."
In addition to the big night from O'Rourke, Forest and Luke, North Cobb also got contributions from Schmitz with 45 assists, three blocks and an ace, while Tate Pember added 29 digs and Karla Radillo chipped in six digs and two aces.
For North, Miller Howard finished with 10 kills and 12 digs, while Panks dished out 32 assists and added eight digs, Gretja Otten had 16 digs and MaTia Hughes had 11 digs.