MARIETTA, Ga. -- The Columbus volleyball team fought.
Up against a team that was regarded as the best in Class AAAA, the Lady Blue Devils did everything but roll over and make it easy on Sandy Creek.
When the dust had settled from all the emotion and intensity, however, Columbus had come up just short, losing in four games (25-17, 25-23, 16-25, 27-25) on Saturday in the state championship game.
"Listen, they're a good team," Columbus coach Donna Fleming said of Sandy Creek. "I'm proud that we battled. We didn't lay down. I told the girls that they should be proud of their body of work. We were second out of 62 teams. That's something to be proud of."
Also worthy of pride was the fact that the team, with its back up against the wall, didn't fold.
Sandy Creek took the first two games of the match, including a heartbreaker in the second game when it appeared the Lady Blue Devils may mount a comeback. Down 24-20, Columbus scored three consecutive points but fell just short.
Fleming said that, for a lot of teams, that may have been the end of the battle.
"It's easy to get down when you fall behind 2-0 in this environment," she said. "There aren't a lot of teams that can come back from that."
But Columbus did.
It dominated the third game, allowing just one rally of three points for Sandy Creek, while it strung together two runs of four points and one of three. Up 21-16 in the game, Columbus put its foot on the gas, running off the final four points and taking a 25-16 win.
The fourth game was a microcosm of the match as a whole.
More than once, Columbus appeared to be overmatched and on its way to a loss.
Sandy Creek scored four straight early in the set to take a 4-2 lead, but Columbus rallied to take a 7-6 lead just moments later.
The Lady Patriots reeled off six straight points, erupting to a commanding 14-9 lead, but Columbus scored four straight to cut the lead to one.
Later, down 17-14, the Lady Blue Devils scored six straight and appeared to have taken control, only to have Sandy Creek battle back for a slim 21-20 lead.
Even down to its last chances at 24-23 and 25-24, Columbus forced extra points, before finally falling 27-25.
"We had opportunities in the fourth game," Fleming said. "But everyone played hard. They really did. They played every point with passion, and that's all we can ask for. A month ago, we might not have thought that we'd be here. But here we are."
Mikayla Swinson, who recorded 14 digs in the match, said the same thing about her team's ability to fight.
"No one thought we were going to be here," she said. "We came in as the underdog, and we knew we had to fight. It takes a lot of heart and a lot of drive, no matter what the result was."
Senior outside hitter Chandler Barre spoke of the team's ability to stay calm in the face of adversity.
"Everyone stayed calm," said Barre, who finished the match with 11 kills. "I'm just so proud of my teammates for staying in it."
Barre and Swinson, along with senior LeighEllen McCormick, are the only three that will be graduating from the team this year. Fleming said the team has a great outlook in the future.
"We had a young team this year," she said. "We had six juniors. This is just motivation to work harder. Winning a state championship is hard to do. To have that opportunity--now they know what they have to do to get here."
Saturday at Marietta High School
Columbus 17 23 25 25
Sandy Creek 25 25 16 27
Leaders: Columbus--Chandler Barre, 11 kills, 6 digs; Shardonee Hayes, 10 kills, 4 blocks; Brianna Gogins, 5 kills, 4 blocks, 6 digs; Kennedy Smith, 4 kills, 8 digs; Natalie Twyford, 3 kills, 2 blocks, 4 digs; Madison Fleming, 24 assists, 14 digs; Mikayla Swinson, 14 digs; LeighEllen McCormick, 7 digs, 2 assists; Ki'anna Duncan, 5 digs; Brittany Griner, 1 block, 2 digs. Records: Sandy Creek--37-19; Columbus--30-26.