DACULA -- When Hebron Christian Academy and George Walton Academy met a few weeks ago in the Area 6-A tournament, the Lions fell to the Bulldogs on the final day before winning the rematch 3-1 in the finals to secure an area title and a top seed in the state tournament.
On Saturday, the teams met again, this time with a berth in the Final Four on the line. When the five games were up, the Lions had prevailed.
Junior Eden Murray sent a hard spike down on the final point in Game 5, and after George Walton failed to dig it out, Hebron had secured its first-ever final four appearance with a 25-19, 25-14, 24-26, 15-25, 15-11 win.
"I'm just really proud of my team and how we came back from those last two losses," said Murray, the area tournament MVP and an all-area selection. "I just tried to help the team by doing whatever they needed."
Game 1 started out with the teams trading points until about halfway through. Murray (15 kills, two blocks) recorded her first kill of the day on the Lions' first point, and Hebron's Bridgette Oduro (12 kills) and George Walton's Erin Waterworth (20 kills, seven digs) put down early kills.
"Both (Murray and Oduro) did an outstanding job," Hebron coach Judy Conner said. "With Eden playing so well, it opens everything up for the other hitters as well. I know that George Walton sort of feels that Eden is the only thing we've got. But when they're able to stop her, then Bridgette's able to step up and hit the ball."
The teams were even at 13-13 when the Lions started to pull away. The Bulldogs ran off three straight points, but the Lions responded with a six-point run and then a 6-1 run en route to a 25-19 victory to open up a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five matchup.
Hebron didn't let the second game stay as close. Murray and Oduro strung together kills on their way to a 15-7 lead. Both sides traded points evenly after a George Walton timeout until Hebron pulled away with the last four points and a 25-14 win.
The Bulldogs used the 10-minute break after the second game to regroup and get back on track.
Waterworth and Ivy Atkism (eight kills) recorded early kills for the Bulldogs in Game 3, and eventually they were able to build a 17-10 lead. Hebron stormed back with an 8-3 run to cut the deficit to 20-18. After George Walton went up 22-18, Hebron started a 6-2 run to tie the game at 24-24, just two points away from finishing off the Bulldogs. But Waterworth scored a kill and George Walton took the next point as well, securing a 26-24 win to pull to within 2-1.
The Bulldogs then took command of Game 4 early, not letting the Lions lead after 1-0. After Hebron closed to 12-10, the Bulldogs put together an 8-2 run to lead 20-12 before Hebron called a timeout. Hebron cut the score to 21-15, but George Walton finished off the final four points, including two aces by Karlee Crowe, to win 25-15 and set up a decisive Game 5.
Alli Johnson started the scoring in the fifth game with a kill on the first point, and Hebron started out with a 4-2 lead. The teams traded points until Hebron strung two together for a 10-7 lead.
Atkism scored a kill after a timeout, but Hebron responded with three straight points after a couple of missed digs by Waterworth off serves.
Waterworth responded with a kill to keep her team alive at 14-11. But Murray spiked the ball on the next play, the dig attempt by the Bulldogs went back over the net and out of bounds, giving the Lions the decisive 15-10 win and setting off celebration on the Hebron side.
"It was very exciting," Conner said. "We were happy after the first two games, obviously. The 10-minute break has kind of hurt us the past couple of times we've done it. We've come out and lost the third game but been able to win the fourth game. But today, we gave George Walton too much opportunity to come back in the fourth game. But the girls were able to rally in the end."
The Bulldogs gave Hebron a lot of trouble, but it just wasn't enough to keep their season going."It was a hard match," George Walton coach Michelle Trillanes-Messig said. "The girls came back and fought hard after that second loss and worked really, really hard to get it back even for the fifth match. We just had a couple that served out or hit out, and that's the way it goes."Hebron will face top-seeded Walker in the semifinals on Wednesday at Pinecrest Academy. If the Lions win, they will play for the state title next Saturday at Marietta.