Queen Anne’s County’s Caitlin Pfeiffer, left, battles North Caroline’s Hannah Schall at the net as Camryn Pepper (1) and Mallory Short (15) look on Wednesday night.

CENTREVILLE — It wasn’t so much one thing, but the last thing.

That just happened to be the right hand of North Caroline High’s Madelyn Rorabaugh, who leapt one last time to knock down the last point Wednesday night, Oct. 2, in a marathon-like 25-22, 19-25, 25-14, 16-25, 16-14 victory over Queen Anne’s County, giving the Bulldogs sole possession of first place atop the North Bayside volleyball standings.

“Honestly, I thought we could have kept playing,” Rorabaugh said. “It was hard, but we play together as a team. We have our ups and downs.”

Up and down, back and forth is what North Caroline (6-2 overall, 5-0 North Bayside) and Queen Anne’s (6-3, 4-1) treated the crowd to in the opening game, which featured 13 ties and no team building a lead of greater than three points — the Lions at 14-11, the Bulldogs getting theirs on a game-ending block for the 25-22 Game 1 final.

The Bulldogs, who have won six straight since losing to James M. Bennett and Leonardtown to open the season, continued playing with that momentum while building an early 4-0 lead in Game 2. But the Lions slowly reeled in their opponent, drawing even at 7-7 on a net violation. Four more ties would be forged before Queen Anne’s Taylor Walls broke the fourth knot, tapping down a winner that gave the Lions a 14-13 lead they never relinquished the remainder of the match.

The Bulldogs didn’t go away though, staying within three points until Queen Anne’s Cecelia Schweitzer stepped to the service line and turned a 17-15 lead into a 20-15 advantage. The Bulldogs got no closer than three the rest of the way before Walls recorded one of her team-high eight blocks to seal the 25-19 win.

“Our team is still working on trusting each other every single point,” North Caroline head coach Amanda Vanskiver said. “So that’s why we’re a little inconsistent I think. You can see it as the match goes on. Like one or two things will go in the other team’s favor and they will start to panic a little bit. Their faces don’t show it, but you can just tell. That is probably the one thing, because when they come together and play together their unstoppable almost. It’s just getting them to stay that way, whether they’re winning by 10, or losing by 10. Trust.”

Game 3 was the only game of the five that did not feature a tie, as the Bulldogs rode Rorabaugh’s seven-point service run en route to an 11-2 lead. Queen Anne’s got as close as five at 13-8, but consecutive blocks from Kelsey Walters pushed North Caroline’s lead to 16-8, which ballooned to 20-10 on back-to-back service points from Walters. The Lions served the game’s final point into the net, ending the match’s most lopsided game.

Queen Anne’s again answered.

After three ties, Bella Bitter served the Lions to a 10-7 lead. North Caroline closed within 13-12 on Mallory Short’s kill, but then struggled with its service return as Queen Anne’s Maddie Tisher delivered an ace, triggering a five-point burst on the way to a 25-16 win that forced Game 5.

The Lions moved to a 4-1 lead in the decisive game on Kylie Tulowitzky’s ace. North Caroline stayed close, creating ties at 4-all, 5-all, and 6-all. Queen Anne’s twice extended its lead to four, an errant Bulldog serve putting the Lions up 13-9. But Short tattooed a winner at 13-10, then served North Caroline into a 14-13 lead when Lauren Williamson (17 kills) hammered a right-handed kill.

Short’s serve into the net made it 14-14, but Williamson touched a winner into an open space for a 15-14 lead before Rorabaugh delivered her match-ending kill.

“I was nervous,” Rorabaugh admitted of her game-winning point. “But I believed in myself. Now, we just have to fight for the rest of the North.”

North Caroline and Queen Anne’s are scheduled to meet Oct. 23 in the final match of the regular season.

“They fought really, really hard,” Queen Anne’s head coach Devin Beattie said of both teams. “I really do think if my girls had stayed up on themselves, and kept the energy going, I think we would have had it.

“It’s hard to teach the mental game,” Beattie added. “I’m hoping by the time we get there (Oct. 23) we are a much more confident team, keeping our energy up the entire time, and we just go out right from the bat.”

Vanskiver felt the same way.

“Both teams were awesome,” Vanskiver said. “Our girls have been putting in a lot of work and they want it. They want to be better. And every day they show up and they want to be better. It’s definitely showing when they come out and play against good teams.”

Notes: Short finished with 13 kills and two aces; Rorabaugh had seven kills, six blocks and four aces; Camryn Pepper totaled seven kills, one ace and six blocks; and Walters had 10 kills, and ace and four blocks. … Queen Anne’s Bitter had 12 assists, and Caitlin Pfeiffer finished with seven kills.

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