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Shelton - The East Lyme High School girls' volleyball team was a mess in the first game of Thursday's CIAC Class L semifinal. Name an error and they made it, including two foot fouls, a rarity in the sport.
It got so bad that Vikings coach Jack Biggs got out of his courtside seat during the game and took a walk behind the bench to work off his angst.
"I personally was really off," senior Emily Ennis said. "It just wasn't working, but my team helped me out. They supported me and gave me the confidence to get back in the game and get back into it and fight. And that's what we did."
East Lyme shook off a sloppy first game and ground out an 18-25, 25-22, 25-23, 20-25, 15-9 win over top-ranked Barlow of Redding at Shelton High School.
"They did turn it around," Biggs said, "and what they won was a mental game. They didn't stop playing."
The fourth-seeded and two-time defending champion Vikings will put their crown on the line Saturday against third-seeded Bristol Eastern at East Haven High (4 p.m.)
Eastern took down No. 2 RHAM of Hebron 25-17, 23-25, 25-21, 25-20 in its semifinal.
Seniors Jillian Bartlett (36 assists), Kayla Fobian (11 kills) and Devin Perez (eight kills) helped East Lyme to its win.
Ennis, who didn't have a kill in Game 1, finished with a team-high 12.
Thursday's win was one of the Vikings' more gutty wins during their three-year run to the state finals. They were thoroughly outgunned by the South-West Conference champions.
Here's how good Barlow (23-1) was: Not only hadn't it lost a match all season, it hadn't lost a set.
"(Sarah McAniff) was shredding our defense apart," Biggs said. "And the middle (Hannah Goetz) was very good."
McAniff had a match-high 22 kills.
East Lyme did its best to help the Falcons in the first game. It made 14 errors, the last of which gave the latter the win.
"It's a new gym," Fobian said. "Honestly, it took me a while to get used to it, to get in the zone. And it was the same with everyone else. We had to get all of our nerves out and start playing our game.
"That's really what Game 1 was all about, getting our nerves out."
There was no way the Vikings could match Barlow's power, so they had to play cleaner and smarter.
"We play our best when we just relax and just do the simple things," Ennis said. "Good pass. Good set. Good hit. We don't do anything too fancy. We just play our game."
Falcons coach Steve Antal said: " (East Lyme) had a pretty good defense. They pursued everything."
Barlow seemed to have regained momentum in the fourth game and led the final game 8-7. It then made an error to tie it, the fifth tie of the game.
As the Vikings played smoother, the Falcons made two unforced errors to give the latter a 10-8 lead.
"We hadn't been in that position where we'd been down all year," Antal said, "When it came down to the end, we were giving them free balls and they were hitting them."
East Lyme got its lead to 11-9 when it finally put the Falcons away. Ennis and Perez had back-to-back kills. Barlow followed successive errors for match point and the win.
"You don't have to play your best in the tournament," Biggs said. "You have to survive, and we survived again tonight to move on."