PAXTON — With a 25-19, 25-20 victory in the IHSA Class 2A Paxton Regional semifinals over Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin, Paxton-Buckley-Loda entered new territory.
The Panthers will play for a regional championship for the first time since 2012.
“It has been a while,” PBL head coach Lindsay Stalowy said. “The regional pairings around here have been very tough. Typically, whoever comes out of one of these regionals in the Champaign area goes pretty far at state. It’s been a tough road, but we’re happy to be playing on Thursday night.”
The road to PBL’s first regional title since 2004 will go through Unity, which, via a 25-16, 25-16 win over Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley in its semifinal match, is back in a regional final after losing to Champaign Central in last year’s 3A Unity Regional title match.
“It was a challenge for us to play schools that were quite a bit bigger than us,” Unity head coach Kylie Hockersmith said. “It’s just kind of nice to get another group of teams and have another shot at it.”
When the two teams met in late September, Unity defeated PBL 25-23, 25-18.
“I think it’s going to be a competitive game,” Hockersmith said. “It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. It’s going to be a grind and a good match. We just have to focus on our side of the net.”
Since the loss, PBL has won 19 of its last 20 matches.
“We’ve been working on different things since we played them, just like I’m sure Unity has as well,” Stalowy said. “Where we were and Unity was in September were probably both very different teams from then until now, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens Thursday night between the two of us.”
The Panthers (30-5) started the match with an 8-2 deficit in the first match as two kills by Emily Meidel and aces by Emma Clapp and Sophia Rome resulted in the Blue Devils’ last four points of that run, with Baylee Cosgrove recording a kill to cut a PBL deficit to 6-2.
“We competed very hard. I thought, in the first half of the first set, we were on point with exactly what we wanted to do,” said BHRA (21-9) head coach Susan Kentner.
However, PBL erased its deficit with an 8-3 run.
Addison Oyer started the run with a kill. After a service error resulted in a sideout for BHRA, Brooke Walder -- who finished with one kill and four digs -- Oyer and Makenna Klann recorded a kill to cut PBL's deficit to 9-7. Another Oyer kill made the score 10-8.
“Our passes were OK when we were down in that first set,” Stalowy said. “We just needed our front row to close the block and stop letting them hit through us. I think after that, it did slowly get better as the match went on.”
Sophia Rome recorded a kill to give BHRA a 12-11 lead. After Jasmine Miles tallied a kill to cut a PBL deficit to 14-13, Addison Oyer — who finished the match with 16 kills and six digs — recorded a couple of game-tying kills before PBL took the lead at 16-15.
Oyer had a kill to extend the advantage to 17-15. After BHRA sided out, Oyer recorded two more kills and Makenna Klann recorded an ace to extend PBL's lead to 20-16.
After Meidel recorded a kill to make the score 20-17, Oyer recorded two more kills and Cosgrove added another kill to further extend the Panthers' lead to 23-17. Cosgrove recorded another kill to make the score 24-19 before PBL scored the game point on the next volley.
“Our block was there, but Oyer did a really good job of coming off of our block, and that was crucial of them in that first set," Kentner said.
In the second set, Meidel recorded a kill to tie the set at 3-3 before an Oyer kill gave PBL a 4-3 lead. Another Oyer kill extended a Panther lead to 7-4 before Sarah Story tallied a sideout kill for BHRA.
Cosgrove recorded a kill to make the score 9-5 before a kill by Ravyn Davis and a service point by Story helped the Blue Devils tie the game at 9-9.
Cosgrove — who finished the match with six kills — tallied a couple of kills to break the 9-9 tie.
“Our outsides came in strong for us tonight. I’m really pleased with (Oyer and Cosgrove),” Stalowy said. “They mixed up their shots.”
Allison Farnsworth and Rome each recorded a kill to cut a Blue Devil deficit from 12-9 to 12-11. A Meidel kill then gave BHRA a 15-14 lead.
After the two teams traded sideouts, Oyer recorded two more kills to give PBL a 17-16 lead. After Jillian Russell recorded a block to tie the game, Makenna Klann — who finished with 12 assists along with three kills, eight digs and one ace — made a go-ahead tip kill to give PBL an 18-17 lead.
The Panthers tallied another point before Farnsworth recorded a kill to make the score 19-18. With PBL leading 21-19, Miles -- who finished the match with four kills and one dig -- recorded a kill and Abbie Schmidt -- who finished with 13 assists, eight digs and one ace -- recorded an ace to extend the Panthers' lead to 23-19.
After BHRA sided out, Miles tallied another kill and Jolee Hastings -- who finished the match with five digs and one ace -- recorded an ace to clinch the match.
Makayla Klann concluded the match with 20 digs, one ace and two assists while Carly Mutchmore and two digs and Jaden Bender had one dig.
“The second set went back and forth," Kentner said. "We had a couple of little bobbles on our side. We had two serve-receives that didn’t go our way. We had a set that didn’t go our way. Otherwise, I thought we were exactly where we wanted to be attacking and getting them defensively off kilter. I’m very proud of our Blue Devil team, and I think we did a good job of competing tonight. It was a very good year for this group, (including) nine fantastic seniors. I’ve had a lot of them since seventh grade. It’s just a fantastic group of girls.”
PBL def. Bismarck-Henning-Rossville-Alvin 25-19, 25-20
For PBL (30-5), kills: Addison Oyer 16, Baylee Cosgrove 6, Jasmine Miles 4, Makenna Klann 3, Brooke Walder; aces: Makayla Klann, Makenna Klann, Abbie Schmidt, Jolee Hastings; digs: Makayla Klann 20, Makenna Klann 8, Schmidt 8, Oyer 6, Hastings 5, Walder 4, Cosgrove 2, Carly Mutchmore 2, Miles, Jaden Bender; assists: Schmidt 13, Makenna Klann 12, Makayla Klann 2.