Bernie and Santa Fe found themselves tied with 3-3 records at the conclusion of round-robin play. The two final four participants split two games in head-to-head play and under the MSHSAA tiebreaker rules, the two teams went back to the court to settle who would advance to the championship match and play for a state title.
Bernie was clutch in the one 25-point tie-breaker game.
The Lady Mules came out aggressive, took a quick 4-1 lead and never trailed in a convincing 25-17 win that propelled Bernie into the championship match against Winona Saturday at 3 o'clock.
Winona, which beat Bernie 25-18, 25-23 in their opening match, finished round-robin play at 6-0 to advance to the title game.
Bernie and Santa Fe played two tight games in their round-robin meeting, Bernie taking the first game 25-23 only to see the Lady Chiefs bounce back to take the second game, 26-24.
"I just told them 'lets play this time'," Bernie coach Erin Hoffman said when asked about going up against Santa Fe for a third and deciding game. "That's basically what I told them. I said that we didn't go in with the aggressiveness that we normally do the fist time we played them. I said 'you've got a second chance. Let's do it."
Bernie (26-8-2) made the most of the opportunity.
The Lady Mules used a combination of timely hitting, hustling defense and strong serving to dominate Santa Fe in the third and deciding game. After building a early 4-1 lead, Bernie saw why Santa Fe (28-7-2) was at the final four as the Chiefs fought back to tie the game at 5-all. Bernie answered and built a 2-point lead that was nursed until at 11-9, before the Lady Mules put together a 7-1 run to take control of the deciding game, 18-10. The cushion was all the Lady Mules needed.
The final four is nothing new for Hoffman, who led Bell City to a state title 2003. In her first year at Bernie, Hoffman knew what to tell her players heading into tournament play.
"I told them that there shouldn't be any more nerves," Hoffman said. "The getting there is nervous because if you lose you're done. But now that you are here, just go out there and play. Leave everything on the court because this is it. There is no next step. This is the final show."
Winona (31-7-1) was Bernie's first match of the tournament and the Lady Wildcats rode the 23 combined kills from Rachel Holthaus (12) and Nola McAfee (11) to a 25-18, 25-23 sweep. Tori Lowrey led Bernie in the match with eight kills.
How about the rematch?
"We have a better idea now obviously of what they do," Hoffman noted. "Actually playing against them like you said, it's the first time these girls have ever thought about being in the state tournament. So it was the first game and they had some jitters and that sort of stuff. I think they will be more comfortable now."
After dropping two to Winona, Bernie then took on Santa Fe and split to stand at 1-3 heading into the final round-robin match against Osceola (26-13). The Lady Mules knew they needed a sweep to have a shot at the title and they came through with a solid 25-15, 25-13 win. And when Winona swept Santa Fe, the stage was set for a one-game tiebreaker.
Bernie's offense was balanced with Tori Lowery and Ellen Snider charting 29 and 22 kills, respectively, in round-robin play. Chelsea Wagner added 14.
Katelyn Baker paced the Lady Mules in assists with a total of 73, or 10.4 per game. Paige Mays was credited with a team-high 31 digs, or 4.2 per game.