After each of the last two meetings went the distance with each school winning one meeting, it was no surprise that Thursday's Sandusky Bay Conference Lake division matchup between Norwalk and Perkins went five games.
Unlike the Sept. 4 match at Perkins, this time it was the Pirates that pulled out the win, 15-25, 25-18, 25-18, 23-25, 15-10 in another classic between the two teams.
Perkins improved to 11-6 overall and 5-3 in the SBC while Norwalk fell to 9-6, 6-2 — one match behind Bellevue (13-3, 6-1) in the loss column.
"We came out hot and we did some good things," Perkins coach Heath Hamilton said of Game 5. "We were just aggressive. When you play aggressive and control the ball enough to play fast, we can do some really impressive things. It has to start with the pass."
It was the start that Perkins got in Game 5 that was key. Dessa Daubert's ace opened the scoring and after two errors by Norwalk and a kill by Riley Knupke, the Pirates led 4-1. Perkins was able to continue the momentum and pushed the lead to 8-3 after two more kills from Knupke.
"We told them to stay motivated and to keep their enthusiasm," Norwalk coach Sarah Kipp said. "We told them to take care of the ball, but no, we did not take care of the ball tonight. We could not put the offense together."
Norwalk did not go away quietly. It got a kill from Marie Clouse and a block and kill by Delaney Thomas to draw as close as 10-8. Madi Lawson responded with a kill and a block before a kill from Knupke gave Perkins match point, ahead 14-9. After a hitting error by the Pirates, Madison Boothe blasted a kill, giving Perkins the close win.
"They jumped out to the big lead in Game 5 and they passed the ball and we did not," Kipp said. "We did not pass the ball well tonight and that is the difference in the match."
Norwalk came out with high energy and controlled the opening game from the very beginning. It opened a 10-6 lead after Mya Neuberger registered one of her nine kills. The Pirates fought and clawed and stayed within a point at 14-13, but that is when Norwalk took over.
Claire Kelley put down consecutive kills before Thomas recorded another kill to prompt a timeout from Hamilton. Norwalk increased the lead to 20-14 after two more kills from Kelley. Rachael Wenzinger registered a kill for the Pirates, but Norwalk won the last five points — capped on an ace from Kelley to take the early lead.
"The energy was high in Game 1," Kipp said. "We played well in Game 1 and we passed the ball well. It kind of fell off the wagon after that."
Perkins did not wait very long to respond. A kill from Knupke and an ace from Kaylee Hiser helped the Pirates to a 5-0 lead in Game 2. The lead was 8-2 when Kipp used her first timeout, but the lead ballooned to 16-6 lead after a Norwalk error.
Perkins pushed the lead to as much as 22-9 after a kill and service ace from Olivia Weatherly, but suddenly, the tide changed. Norwalk reeled off the next six points to force Hamilton into a timeout. Elyse Balduff recorded a kill out of the timeout, drawing Norwalk within 22-16. Norwalk got as close as 23-18, but a kill from Wenzinger and a service ace from Kaylyn Barnette tied the match.
"After Game 1, we talked about our work ethic on the court," Hamilton said. "I felt that Norwalk was flat out out-working us. We were not playing hard enough and we were not doing the things we were supposed to. I got on them and they responded."
And respond the Pirates did. Perkins again used a fast start in Game 3. This time, it led 7-1 before Kipp called timeout in an effort to control the momentum. It did not work much, as Perkins continued to use precise passing and great communication to combat anything Norwalk did.
The lead was up to 18-8 after yet another kill from the right arm of Knupke. Norwalk got within six points in multiple occasions, but never any closer. A kill from Boothe gave Perkins the lead after three games.
"I think when you are struggling to pass the ball and struggling defensively, it gets you so out of system that it is hard to get back in," Kipp said. "That is something we are going to work on tomorrow."
Game 4 was nearly a repeat of Game 1, as Norwalk controlled the pace of play and movement of the ball for nearly the entire game. A string of five straight points pushed Norwalk's lead to 11-4. Later, Perkins got as close as 16-15 after a kill from Daubert, but the hosts responded again.
Five straight points extended the lead to six points, and Norwalk led 24-19 after a block from Thomas. Perkins won the next four points, but Kelley blasted one of her 16 kills to tie the match.
"I liked our effort," Hamilton said. "It was the difference, plain and simple. When our effort came, our passing and our fundamentals were there. When that all comes together, we are a pretty good team."
Carly Bilton added 16 kills for Norwalk, while Thomas had 12 kills and four blocks. Olivia Ward had 51 assists, Lindsey Koenig tallied 27 digs, and Ella Foster added 15 digs.
"I think Perkins had more hitters involved tonight," Kipp said. "That is what you hope for as your season progresses. You want to get more kids hitting the ball."
Knupke was the match leader with 18 kills while Mollie McVeigh added 21 assists and eight kills. Hiser totaled 37 digs, Daubert had 24 digs, Weatherly contributed 20 assists, and Lawson put down five blocks.
"It is fun," Hamilton said. "I said as soon as got in this league last year that we knew Norwalk was the team we had to beat if we wanted to be at the top of the conference. I said I wanted this to be a rivalry. I think we started it last year and continued it this year."
Perkins also took a five-game win over Norwalk in 2017. That, coupled with Norwalk's 20-25, 25-16, 25-15, 23-25, 15-11 win on Sept. 4 means the teams have played 597 points in their last three matches. The Truckers have won 300 of those points to 297 for Perkins.
"Wow. That is crazy," Kipp said of the close numbers. "It is good volleyball. Perkins is playing good volleyball. Defensively, they are relentless. You have to give credit where credit is due. Riley Knupke just hit the ball well tonight."
There is also the possibility of a third meeting yet this season in the Division II district tournament.
"I would be alright with that," Hamilton said.