The first two volleyball matches this season between Center Grove and Franklin ended a bit sooner than expected, with the Trojans taking both in straight sets.

In Saturday’s Class 4A sectional title showdown at Greenwood, the two rivals had the kind of back-and-forth war that most fans had been anticipating.

The No. 6-ranked Trojans took the Grizzly Cubs’ best punch but responded in championship fashion, pulling out a 25-17, 25-22, 20-25, 25-23 triumph in a heated battle that brought out the best in both squads.

Center Grove (26-9) now travels to Columbus East for a regional match on Tuesday.

“Volleyball is a game of back and forth, so you’ve got to be ready for anything,” Center Grove freshman setter Madison Hammill said. “We were lucky enough to be able to come back.”

A tight first set turned when the Trojans put together six consecutive points to build an 18-10 advantage. Franklin countered with a five-point burst to get within four at 20-16, but a pair of tip kills from freshman Lindsey Howard helped Center Grove finish it off.

Franklin stormed back from an early second-set deficit to take an 18-15 lead, but the Trojans answered with five consecutive points to go on top for good. Emma LeMasters kills accounted for half of Center Grove’s last eight points in the set.

Rather than go away quietly, though, the Grizzly Cubs fought back. With the third set tied at 12-12, Franklin put together an 11-4 run behind Rachel Kinney, Abby Sewell and Alyvia Sundheimer to take control.

“Once we got that confidence out of the third set,” Kinney said, “we were like, ‘Let’s go.’ And that showed on the court.”

Franklin kept riding that momentum well into the fourth set, building a 13-9 lead before Center Grove rebounded and took the lead for the first time at 17-16 on an Ashley Eck ace. The teams were deadlocked five times after that, the last at 23-23, before a LeMasters kill, her match-high 19th, put the Trojans up to stay.

Center Grove coach Maggie Harbison was happy with how her team responded to the toughest challenge it had faced in several weeks.

“They were tense in certain situations,” she said, “but I think this is going to be good for Tuesday, and it’ll be good for however long we continue to play.”

Senior Macy Carrabine added 16 kills for Center Grove, while Madison Hammill had 43 assists and Devyn Merriman collected 20 digs.

Sundheimer totaled 15 kills to lead Franklin, while Kinney had 12 kills and 16 digs and Sewell chipped in with nine kills. Brooklyn Peddicord paced the Grizzly Cubs defensively with 19 digs, while Isabell Mahin added 14. Brooke Phillips had eight kills and 31 assists.

With only three seniors in uniform on Saturday night — Carrabine for Center Grove and Sewell and Addie Payne — it’s likely that this rivalry will only continue to intensify.

Center Grove moved into the final with a 25-23, 25-14, 25-8 win over Martinsville. Franklin swept Whiteland in the second semifinal, 25-10, 25-13, 25-15.

The Warriors finished the season with a 2-27 record, but with just two seniors on the roster, they too will return largely intact next fall.

“They didn’t give up,” Whiteland coach Kristin Estridge said. “We’re young; we’re super young. So we’ve got a lot of good things that we can work on in the offseason and come back and get better.”

In other local sectional action Saturday, Greenwood Christian swept Class A semifinal foe Edinburgh 25-21, 25-22, 25-15 before knocking off 14th-ranked Indianapolis Lutheran in five sets on the Saints’ home floor in the championship match.

The Cougars (23-10) will play in a regional match at Class A No. 4 Hauser on Tuesday.

Indian Creek defeated Beech Grove in five sets to reach the finals of the Cardinal Ritter sectional, where the Braves fell to the host Raiders, the No. 11-ranked team in Class 3A.

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.