Senior outside hitter Mathias Buhlis had a game-high 15 kills in addition to his four blocks in Freedom's 23-25, 28-26, 25-23, 25-19 victory. But it was senior right side hitter Payton Fowler who truly came alive, adding 13 kills, five aces and five blocks.
"He played better than he has all year. It was unbelievable," said Freedom coach Sean Carey. "He did everything we needed him to tonight. He made blocks, he went for every free ball; he was an animal."
Fowler's teammates agreed his performance was contagious.
"He was just doing work tonight and everyone followed suit like we need to," Buhlis said. "It feels really good to win. I'm still shaking."
Antioch, which snapped De La Salle's 114-match win streak on March 15, was looking to rebound from its two league losses to first-place Deer Valley and second-place Liberty. But without 6-foot-7-inch middle blocker Tim Williams, the Panthers simply couldn't get it done.
Noticing key flaws in Antioch's lineup, Carey opted to change his rotation on the fly. Although his Falcons were called for several rotation errors in the match, the new plan worked, providing not only a win but also an on-court lesson for the players.
"We were doing some switching in the middle of the match that (we) hadn't practiced before and weren't really familiar with. But (we) did a good job with it, though," Carey said. "We haven't been in a position yet this season where it made a difference to do that. Usually we're so far behind or the confidence just isn't there."
Now that his Falcons know they have the talent to compete with the BVAL's top teams, Carey hopes the win over Antioch will give them confidence for the second half of the season.
"Hopefully this will keep them from tucking their tails against good teams and maybe put a little chip on their shoulder and a swagger in their step," he said. "Whether it's close or not, I always expect them to win. They definitely have enough talent."