LEBANON — Junior Amber Milcarek admitted to being nervous after the host Greyhounds lost the first game of the Class 1A Lebanon Sectional championship match to Cisne on Thursday.
But Milcarek never stopped believing -- or swinging.
Milcarek scored five of the Greyhounds' final six points -- all on kills -- as Lebanon captured its first sectional volleyball championship with a 23-25, 25-21, 25-20 come-from behind win over the Runnin' Lions.
Led by a team-high 22 kills from 6-foot-4 middle hitter Chyna Byars, Cisne took a 19-18 lead in the final game on a kill by Misty Gill.
Lebanon sophomore Malory Schmitt then tied the game at 19 with a kill before Milcarek took over.
With Lauren Nunn serving, Milcarek pounded down three straight kills to give Lebanon a 22-19 lead. Cisne senior Kailee Saben cut the deficit to 22-20, but Milcarek followed with another kill down the middle of the court.
After the Greyhounds moved to match point on a Lions' hitting error, Milcarek came through with another kill before being mobbed by her teammates.
"Yes, I was nervous when we lost the first game. We just kept fighting," Milcarek said. "This feels great. We've worked hard for this all year."
The win moves the Greyhounds (17-12) into the Marissa Super-Sectional on Saturday at 1 p.m., where they will take on Cahokia Conference rival New Athens.
The Yellow Jackets (27-9) advanced with a 25-13, 25-19 win over Crab Orchard in the title match of the Crab Orchard Sectional.
While Milcarek and probably most of the Greyhounds' crowd was nervous after the opening-game loss, Lebanon coach Carrie Brickey remained calm.
"I wasn't nervous, because we hadn't played our best and we were in the first game until the end. We just had to settle down and play our game," Brickey said. "We had to get back to playing defense. That's what has been the key for us.
"I'm just so proud of this team. I couldn't have asked for a better group of players. They've worked their tails off to get to this point."
Lebanon had a chance to win the first game.
Leading 23-21 following an ace by Courtney Koenig, the Greyhounds couldn't hold on.
Byars, an imposing force at the net, hammered down a kill, Kailee Sabin added an ace and when Brandae Gill added a tip, the Lions had a 24-23 lead.
A missed tip by the Greyhounds gave Cisne the first game, but Lebanon bounced back.
With her team leading 18-17, Koenig served four straight points -- two coming on a tip and kill from Milcarek --to take command. Schmitt then sent the match to a third game with a kill, giving Lebanon a 25-21 win.
Cisne (32-3) was led by Byars, who despite finishing with 22 kills, was kept somewhat under control by the craftiness of the Greyhounds.
"She (Byars) had a good game, but I thought they (Lebanon) did some different things with tips and hitting around her," Lions coach Jonathan Smith said. "Credit goes to Lebanon though. That wasn't the same team we saw the other night in the semifinals. They raised their level of play a couple of notches and we just fell short.''
The final game was close throughout.
Lebanon led most of the way, building leads of 5-1 and 15-12. Misty Gill gave the Lions an 18-17 lead with a tip, but Schmitt got the Greyhounds even with a kill.
But with the score tied at 19, Milcarek took over.
"She really did," Brickey said. "What I really liked was that here we had a junior with the sectional title on the line and she wanted the ball. That shows me something right there. We did a good job of recognizing that she had the hot hand and we got the ball to her."
In the Class 2A Carterville Sectional championship Thursday night, Gibault battled but fell short against highly regarded (Albion) Edwards County.
The Hawks (24-9) were defeated just 25-23 in the first game before the Lions glided to a 25-10 victory in the second game.
Edwards County (39-0) advances to the Hamilton County Super-Sectional, where it will play Effingham St. Anthony at 6 p.m. Saturday. St. Anthony defeated Carlinville 25-17, 25-23 to win the Newton Sectional.