Win at home on Senior Night over Norwalk, and a Sandusky Bay Conference Lake Division title was there for the taking.
The Lady Red did exactly that, slipping past Norwalk, 29-27, 25-27, 23-25, 25-19, 15-13 in an instant classic on Thursday.
"We were in the same position as we were last year and I am so proud of the way the girls fought," Bellevue coach Karen Irons said. "Our middles came up big in games 4 and 5 when we needed blocks."
Bellevue (17-5, 10-2) shares the league title with Norwalk (13-9, 10-2) — one year after winning it outright by beating Norwalk. On Sept. 17, Norwalk won the first meeting in four games.
"My kids fought hard," Norwalk coach Sarah Kipp said. "I think you have to give credit where credit due. Taylor Baxter is hands-down a phenomenal player. The difference in the game was (Kailee) Felder. She was phenomenal for them this evening. We just did not have an answer for her. She hit the ball very well."
Norwalk took its first, and only, lead in Game 5 after a kill by Delaney Thomas. That gave it a 6-5 edge, but Felder, a freshman, smacked two kills and Madison Hrynciw followed that with two service aces, forcing Kipp into a timeout.
Mya Neuberger recorded a kill for Norwalk out of the timeout, but two errors gave Bellevue a 11-7 advantage. Norwalk did not go quietly though, as consecutive kills by Marie Clouse and back-to-back blasts by Neuberger tied the game.
Felder registered a kill and followed that up with an ace for a 13-11 lead. Carly Bilton cut the lead to one at 13-12 and again at 14-13, but Baxter put down the last of her season-high and match-high 31 kills for the win.
"We start two freshmen and Kailee came up huge tonight," Irons said. "It is a team effort. You do not win with one or two players. You win with six and whoever is on the court."
The match was extremely tight throughout. Norwalk led, 13-10, in Game 1 only to see the Lady Red run off the next nine points. The Bellevue lead was still 22-15 when Norwalk put away seven straight points to tie the game.
Norwalk had a chance to win the opening game when it went up 25-24, but a kill from Baxter tied the game. The game would also be tied at 26 and 27 before two kills from Felder gave Bellevue the early lead.
"I feel like we have some work to do in (defending Baxter and Felder)," Kipp said.
Norwalk responded in Game 2, but almost did not finish the job. It raced out to a 7-1 advantage after a service ace by Elyse Balduff. Norwalk consistently held a comfortable advantage until midway through the game when Bellevue made its move.
Trailing 19-12, the Lady Red won six of the next seven points to draw within two points. Later, three errors by Norwalk gave Bellevue a 24-23 lead. Out of a timeout, Bilton smacked a kill to tie the game and kills by Thomas and Olivia Ward knotted the match.
"I think that is what you expect to see from the top two seeds in the district," Kipp said. "I think every single kid out there played their heart out. It was fun to watch."
The third game saw more back and forth action. Bellevue was the first to surge ahead when the Lady Red scored three straight points for a 14-10 lead.
After a Norwalk timeout, it slowly chipped away at the Bellevue advantage, scoring three straight points that included back-to-back kills by Clouse to tie the game at 17. Later, the Lady Red took a 23-21 lead after kills by Molly Bullion and Baxter, but Bilton rattled off four straight kills to win the game and take the lead.
Game 4 was the only game that saw one team lead from start to finish with no lead changes. Three straight points by the Lady Red opened a 6-2 lead. Norwalk only got as close as two points at 10-8 after a Bilton kill, but Bellevue won the next three points. The Lady Red opened a 17-10 lead after consecutive kills by Felder and tied the match at two games apiece on back-to-back kills by Baxter.
"If somebody would have said we would be in this position after last year after who we lost — I knew we could be competitive," Irons said. "I just didn’t know how hard it would be."
Baxter was 85-of-90 hitting with 31 kills, giving her 403 kills for the season. She added 19 digs and connected on all 21 serves she had. Felder added 27 kills on 57-of-60 hitting and had 23 digs.
"It was a great match," Irons said. "It is one of those where you hate to see somebody lose. It was great high school volleyball. I am so pleased."
Bullion was 154-of-155 setting with 54 assists, putting her at 710 assists on the year. That also gives her 2,637 assists for her career, good so far for 21st most in Ohio history.
"Molly is so smart," Irons said. "She works her tail off. Setters do not get enough credit. She has been a leader for four years. You want a setter like her out there."
Bilton topped Norwalk with 20 kills while Thomas added 12 kills. Neuberger had 10 kills, Lindsey Koenig tallied 36 digs, and Ward had 52 assists.
"We have to look forward," Kipp said. "At the end of the day, we have a share of the SBC Lake title and that is something to be very proud of. The regular season is done and we have to focus on what is to come and that is Clear Fork on Tuesday at home. We have to take it one match at a time."