Griz rally from the brink, shock Towson
On its way to the title at the Best Western Grant Creek Inn Invitational, the Towson volleyball team ran into a roadblock it wasn't expecting Saturday afternoon: Montana's resolve.
Leading 23-18 in the third set and two points from its second 3-0 sweep in two tournament matches, the Tigers witnessed a Griz resurrection at the West Auxiliary Gym.
Montana scored seven straight points to close out the third set and force a game four. The Grizzlies then completed the comeback with gutsy plays down the stretch for a 22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-22, 16-14 victory.
"This was the breakthrough I was hoping we were going to have against a very good team," UM coach Jerry Wagner said. "For us to answer the call today was monumental."
The upset made a scramble of the tournament standings. Coupled with Texas Tech's 3-2 (25-15, 21-25, 25-19, 16-25, 15-12) victory over Furman in Saturday's opening match, all four teams enter Saturday evening's final session with 1-1 records and a shot at the tournament title.
Towson (7-3) will face a rested Furman (8-2) team at 4:30 p.m. Montana (2-6) and Texas Tech (9-1) will follow at 7 p.m.
The Tigers mostly had their way against the Grizzlies through the first two sets, hitting .303.
Montana took a 17-13 lead in the third set, but nine straight points by Towson put the Tigers up 22-17 and had the Grizzlies on the brink falling to 0-2 at their own tournament.
Towson was up 23-18 when sophomore Kelsey Schile put down back-to-back kills to make it a three-point game and force the Tigers to use a timeout.
A Schile block, a kill by senior Paige Branstiter and Towson hitting error made it 23-23. Another Towson timeout.
Junior Brooke Bray put Montana up 24-23 when she had a solo block on TU's Alysha McCreary, and another Towson hitting error allowed the Grizzlies to extend the match to a fourth set.
From that point on, it was more the invigorated Grizzlies winning the match than the Tigers losing it. Montana hit .295 in sets four and five, while Towson hit .152.
Junior Kayla Reno, who would finish with a career-high 21 kills on .309 hitting, finished off set four with two late kills.
Montana led 14-11 in the fifth, but a McCreary kill and service ace, followed by a Branstiter attack error that grazed the antennae allowed Towson to pull even at 14-14.
But Branstiter, the team's lone senior, took the role of closer on her broad shoulders and responded to her attack error with back-to-back kills to give the Grizzlies the win.
"We stuck with it and won this match with discipline and faith," Wagner said. "We played our most consistent match of the season, so it was a well-earned win by this team.
"What I liked most today was that our response to every situation we found ourselves in was exactly what I wanted it to be."
Towson finished with 16 more kills than Montana, but the Tigers also had 17 more attack errors. The Grizzlies hit .209, their fourth time in five matches over .200, while Towson finished at .180. Junior Kortney James directed the offensive attack with 41 assists.
Montana also led at the net, with 13 blocks to Towson's nine. Sophomore Natalie Jones had a career-high six, Bray five, and Reno and Schile both added four.
Junior Megan Murphey matched a season high with 18 digs.
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