By JOHN BUTERA
BARBERTON -- With her team on the brink of oblivion and a return to the state tournament looking as likely as a porcupine in a balloon factory, United High's Alexis Thomas saved the day.
Thomas, a 5-foot-9 senior who collected 11 digs, helped lead the Eagles past Orrville 10-15, 16-14, 15-9 in a Division III regional semifinal Wednesday at Barberton High.
The win put United (21-4) in Saturday's regional championship against Cleveland Villa-Angela/St. Joseph at 4 p.m.
Trailing 14-13 in the second game, the Eagles were nearly finished before Thomas regained United's serve with a hit that barely cleared the net.
Forced deciding game: United got two points on its next possession to force a third game.
"If there was one player that kept us together all night, it was Alexis," United coach Billina Donaldson said.
Orrville jumped out 2-0 in that deciding game, but United fashioned its most potent possession, reeling off eight straight points behind the serving of Kelly Powell.
The Eagles' Mandy Clapsaddle, silenced for the first half of the match, keyed the next possession as United scored three more times to lead 11-2.
"I think she was saving it for something and then she realized we needed it now," Donaldson said of Clapsaddle.
Fought off rally: Orrville came as close as 11-7, but an ace by Thomas and Clapsaddle's game-winner landed United back in the regional championship for the second consecutive year.
"Tonight we just pulled it out of our hearts," said Clapsaddle, who had 13 kills. "After that second game, everyone was really focused and we just went out and showed them that.
"Being here last year played a huge part because I know when we walked in here last year our jaws went to our ankles."
Donaldson said, "I was just sitting around wondering when we were going to wake up. As a whole we didn't play United volleyball, but we played well enough to win and I'll take that."