LAWTON — It was only fitting that Brandywine and Bridgman's volleyball teams needed five sets to determine a Division 3 district champion.
In the end, the Bobcats came out on top, defeating the Bees in an exciting title contest at Lawton, 22-25, 25-21, 25-17, 17-25, 15-7.
Brandywine advances to the regional semifinals, where it will play Gobles at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
The Bobcats (34-11-4) and Bees (37-11-2) are two teams that have become quite familiar with each other.
The two squads met multiple times in the regular season, the most recent an Oct. 26 contest in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Red Division tournament, a 2-0 Bridgman win that gave the Bees the division title.
Out of six prior matchups between the two teams this season, the Bees won five.
Bridgman coach Jim Ragosta said he expected another close contest against the Bobcats.
"The games were always really close, a couple points here or there," Ragosta said. "We know Brandywine is going to play well. We took the first game (today), and we really followed our gameplan to a T. I couldn't ask for anything more. We did not in game two, and it kind of carried into game three."
Bridgman was quick to strike in set one, building a 16-8 lead early on.
Brandywine went on a scoring run to cut the margin to 20-18, and it seemed as though the Bobcats figured it out from there.
Brandywine took the next two sets after building a 14-8 set-two lead, and a 15-7 set-three lead, to put itself in the driver's seat for the title.
But Bridgman was able to force the decisive fifth set with a fourth set victory behind the play of standout hitter Haley Goff.
Goff had four kills in the fourth set. She finished with a team-high 20 on the day.
"We kind of got back on track a little bit (in set four)," said Ragosta. "It's unfortunate (to lose). I tell my kids you play each game like it's your last one, because now it is for our four seniors."
Brandywine coach Ray Prestly said the Bobcats had been well-practiced in keeping emotions in check prior to Saturday's championship, and that the team's confidence wasn't in jeopardy after letting the fourth set slip.
"The more that we are controlling our emotion, our breathing, we're not letting that affect the outcome of the game when things are getting a little behind," he said. "In that fourth set, knowing that we're behind, we were still fighting to go for the win, but (we knew) that we still had the fifth (set) to come out and do what we needed to do."
The fifth and final set was tight for the first few volleys, as the teams traded points en route to a 4-3 early Brandywine advantage.
The Bobcats then scored four straight points and two of the following six to go up 10-7. Seven was as many as the Bees would get, as the Bobcats scored the next five to seal the title win.
Kylie Myers turned a blocked Bridgman shot into a Bobcats point to give them 14, then a kill attempt by Goff went just long out of bounds to end the contest and give Brandywine its 15th point.
Myers dominated offensively, tallying 21 kills on the day. Bethany Duval added 14 to go with seven digs and five aces, and Kristen Alvord's 11 kills were also big for the Bobcats.
Elizabeth Stockdale played the role of facilitator, totalling 12 assists. Megan Schmidt led in assists with 21, many of which were to Myers.
The Bees did their best to avoid a potent Bobcats attack, tallying 49 team digs, but Prestly said this week felt like it all started coming together for Brandywine.
"The girls took over the team this week with things that they wanted to do, things that I've been preaching since the beginning of the season," he said. "So finally, the stuff that I've been working on with them is starting to sink in.
"Everything that they've done is all on them. I just have guided them in what we are working on, and it paid off in the end. They played with a lot of heart and determination today."
For Bridgman, Goff led the way with 21 kills, seven digs, five assists, three blocks and two aces in her final game as a Bee. Lily Badger added 22 assists and 10 digs.
The Bees' season comes to a close as one of the most successful in recent memory, though Ragosta said he wished the team could carry on a bit longer.
"We won our conference for the first time in 19 years, but this would've been a little bit better," he said. "You've got to want it more, and I think we just let this one slip out. They're a great, great group of girls."
For Brandywine, Prestly said, while the Bobcats don't know too much about regional opponent Gobles, they are confident in their play on the court.
"Play our game. That's the only thing we can do," Prestly said. "Control what's on our side of the court and move forward from there.
Brandywine d. Bridgman 22-25, 25-21, 25-17, 17-25, 15-7
Brandywine — Elizabeth Stockdale 12 assists, 8 kills, 1 block; Kristen Alvord 11 kills, 1 assist, 7 digs, 1 block, 1 ace; Riley Crofoot 1 kill, 1 assist, 1 block; Megan Schmidt 1 kill, 21 digs; Jessica Williamson 1 dig; Bethany Duval 14 kills, 2 assists, 7 digs, 2 blocks, 5 aces; Clara DePriest 1 kill, 19 assists, 4 digs, 1 block, 1 ace; Kylie Myers 21 kills, 1 assist, 2 digs, 8 blocks, 1 ace; Meg Pomranka 1 ace.
Bridgman — Summer Janes 8 kills, 1 dig; Madelyn Oman 1 kill, 9 digs, 2 aces; Lily Badger 22 assists, 10 digs; Peyton Oman 7 kills, 10 digs, 1 ace; Haley Goff 20 kills, 5 assists, 7 digs, 3 blocks, 2 aces; Autumn Brown 2 assists, 7 digs; Takiya Cornelius 4 kills, 8 blocks; Haylee Kanous 2 kills, 4 digs, 1 block, 1 ace; Ava Ward 1 dig.
Records — Bridgman 37-11, Brandywine 34-11-4.
Contact: bspencer@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSpencer