STERLING – Morgan Mammosser bumped the ball Thursday night at Musgrove Fieldhouse.
The ball floated into the air, then back down. Mammosser and her Rock Falls Rockets teammates watched it drop untouched on their own side of the net. Mammosser held her arms out in frustration as the Rockets dropped Game 1 of the 3A Sterling Regional championship to Sterling.
It got worse before it got better for the Rockets, as they fell behind 5-1 in Game 2.
Against a powerhouse like Sterling, it could have been time to think about basketball season, but the Rockets didn't have hoops on their mind.
Instead, their defense perked up, their middle hitters started finding every hole, and Sterling started making uncharacteristic mistakes.
The Rockets rallied taking the next two games for a 20-25, 25-15, 25-17 win. They advance to play LaSalle-Peru at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the 3A Mendota Sectional.
"It took heart," Mammosser said. "We definitely had our backs to the wall, but we knew we could play better. We had lost to them twice this year, and we hadn't shown them how good we are. We wanted to show that tonight."
"We won that first set and went up 5-1 in the second set, and then just backed off for some reason," Sterling coach Dale Dykeman said. "All phases of our game started making a lot of mistakes, and part of that was because of the defense that they were playing."
Sterling swept both of the regular season matches in two sets.
Game 1 on Thursday was a back-and-forth affair until the score reached 17-17 and Sterling's Krista Loos went the service line. She held serve for the next seven points, three of them aces.
That provided the cushion Sterling needed to take the first game. Loos did not hold serve for more than one point the rest of the night. She had service errors in both the second and third games.
"Krista is just the absolute best player there is," Mammosser said. "Her serve is amazing. That got us out of sorts for a while there, but we recovered."
Once the Rockets settled in, the offense started to run through middle hitters Jordan Giddings and Cierra Wilder. The pair were aggressive at the net on both offense and defense. Giddings had nine kills and four blocks. Wilder had five kills and two blocks.
"Coach put a lot of pressure on both Cierra and I to have big games tonight," Giddings said. "I know I am really proud of the things that she did out there, and I just kept going as hard as I could."
Brianna Celletti held serve for seven points in Game 2 to help the Rockets build a 17-10 lead. Celletti's contribution was more glaring on defense, according to coach Sheila Mammosser.
"Brianna Celletti had the best game of her career tonight," coach Mammosser said. "She was all over in the place in the back row. Our back row as a whole just played awesome."
Sterling's offense was only effective in short bursts in the second and third games.
"We just got a little out of rhythm," Loos said. "We knew that they were a really good team. We just couldn't get anything going."
Rock Falls' Addesyn Nailor held serve during the decisive run in Game 3 that extended the Rockets' lead from 11-8 to 16-8. All but one point in that run came on Sterling errors. The other was a kill by freshman Bailey O'Brien.
Loos led Sterling with 11 kills and five aces. Jenn Rahn had eight kills and four blocks while McKenna Pearson had 15 digs.
Linsey Brown had seven kills for Rock Falls. Mammosser had four kills and nine assists.
Star of the match: Jordan Giddings, Rock Falls, 9 kills, 4 blocks
Key performers: Linsey Brown, Rock Falls, 7 kills, 3 aces; Morgan Mammosser, Rock Falls, 9 assists, 6 service points; Krista Loos, Sterling, 11 kills, 5 aces; Jennifer Rahn, Sterling, 8 kills, 4 blocks
Up next: Class 3A Mendota Sectional semifinal – Rock Falls vs. LaSalle-Peru, 7 p.m. Tuesday