The Hilton Head Island High School volleyball team defeated Aiken High School 3-1 on Tuesday in the Lower State championship to advance to the Class 3-A state championship.
The Seahawks (42-7-1) won the first two sets 25-13 and 25-20, but dropped the third set 17-25 before finishing off the Fighting Green Hornets, 31-29.
Hilton Head High will face the Upper State champion, the Pickens Blue Flame, at 4 p.m. Saturday at White Knoll High School in Lexington.
Aiken (25-14-3), by far, provided the toughest test in this year's playoffs for the Seahawks.
Never miss a local story.
"They were unreal, scrappy" Hilton Head Island head coach Garrett Talarczyk said of the Fighing Green Hornets. "I got nervous when the momentum changed."
It looked, in the first two sets, as though the Seahawks might waltz to the state final. Junior outside hitter Hannah Edelman, who finished with 17 kills, was a ball of energy, pushing Hilton Head Island to a 2-0 lead.
"She's so focused as a player," Talarczyk said. "She was making great shots and was pumping the team up. She carried us in the first two games."
But the Fighting Green Hornets woke up in the third set, and the Seahawks were in trouble from the start, trailing 6-1. Aiken took advantage of some poor Hilton Head serving and turned the momentum of the match around.
But the Seahawks rallied for the fourth set, making it one to remember.
"We knew we were tired from the first two games," Edelman said. "We just focused on really being a team and pushing through as a team. No matter what went wrong on the court, we stayed together, and I think that's what brought us back in the fourth game. We were all in it together."
In the fourth, Hilton Head trailed 18-14 before the Seahawks reeled off seven straight points and looked like they would put it away. But Aiken fought its way back.
"(The Aiken girls) definitely all kept positive attitudes when things went wrong," Seahawks senior middle blocker Brantley Herrington said. "And that's a hard thing that we've had to overcome in the past."
Six different times at the end of the fourth set, a team served for the win. Finally, trailing 29-28, Hilton Head Island won three straight points to punch its ticket to the finals. It was no surprise Edelman had kills on two of the final three points.
"The third game, we kind of gave the game away," Talarczyk said. "A lot of missed serves. I couldn't tell you how many. Before the fourth game, I told them, 'stand your ground, we're not aggressively serving. Just keep putting the ball over the net and playing your game. I think we can beat them.' "
Aiken coach Malynda Young was proud of her team but wished it had found its groove sooner.
"They played well," Young said. "The first two games, we had trouble getting started. If they played the first two games the way they played the last two, then it might have been a different story.
"(Taylor Mabry) did a good job picking stuff up, and Carly Bland also did a good job. And we got some good blocks from Alyssa Brazier."
For the Seahawks, senior outside hitter Sierra Davis was her usual dominant self with 28 kills, three blocks and four aces. Fellow senior Herrington had eight kills and six blocks, while sophomore middle blocker Da'nesha Miller had eight kills and six blocks.
Sophomore libero Alexxis Andreas was busy, tallying 17 digs, while freshman setter Lexi Standen tallied 46 assists. Senior setter Aileen Moore had six assists, two kills and five blocks.
Next up for the Seahawks is defending state champion Pickens, a state powerhouse with 14 state championships in its trophy case. For comparison's sake, Hilton Head Island has played in three 3-A finals, the last coming in 2010.
"I'm pretty confident in the girls," Talarczyk said. "They showed a lot today. We're just going to go back to the basics. Serve aggressively, receive the ball and take it from there."