MILFORD -- Although it had reached the Class LL semifinals each of the past two years, the Cheshire girls volleyball team hadn't won or even qualified for the state championship match since 2007.
And trailing 13-10 in Game 5 of its state semifinal against Fairfield Ludlowe Thursday, it appeared as if the Rams' state run would end in the semis again.
Yet, as it had all night, Cheshire dug deep and stole victory from the jaws of defeat.
The second-seeded Rams won the game's final five points, as they stunned the third-seeded Falcons 3-2 (25-18, 23-25, 25-20, 16-25, 15-13) at Foran.
"It was a great match, Ludlowe's a great team," Cheshire coach Sue Bavone said. "It's a game of errors ... and I think we might've won the errors."
Cheshire (22-1) advances to the Class LL state final where it will play Darien on Saturday at 7 p.m. in East Haven. The Rams had been eliminated 3-0 in consecutive years in the class LL semis in 2010 and 2011, falling each time to the eventual state champion.
"Finally," Bavone said. "We've been to the semifinals three years in a row, and we kept saying that maybe the third time was the charm."
"It was an amazing year, I'm so proud of these girls," Ludlowe coach Meghan Skelton said. "There were just moments where we wavered that killed us."
After it handily won Game 4 (25-16), Ludlowe took control early in the deciding fifth game. Rotondo had seven assists in the fifth game, four of which came on Nelson's kills, as the Falcons built a 13-10 lead -- leaving them just two points from their third state final in four years.
But Jill Howard's kill regained Cheshire's serve and the Rams took advantage of four straight Ludlowe mistakes, including a shot out at 13-13. After a valiant rally, the Falcons failed to get the ball over the net on match point, sending Cheshire to the final.
"I think we got a little tentative towards the end," Skelton said. "Unfortunately we let our confidence waver and they're a great team. You can't do that against a great team."
The Rams' size, keyed by seniors Amanda Palladino and Lisa Walle, proved problematic for Ludlowe -- especially in Game 1, which Cheshire won 25-18. Palladino led the Rams with 18 kills and a whopping 12 blocks.
"I don't think they expected us to be that big," Bavone said. "And I thought (Palladino) set the tone early and frustrated the middles from Ludlowe."
Ludlowe also shot itself in the foot, recording seven service errors in the first two games, including back-to-back foot faults in Game 1.
"That was a critical error on our part," Skelton said. "If we had gone out and made half the serves we missed, it would've been a different story, I think."
But Ludlowe rallied from 22-17 down in Game 2 to draw even at 23. Casey Boatwright's kill and Nelson's ace gave the Falcons the game 25-23.
After the Rams took Game 3, Skelton adjusted, shifting her rotation to keep her hitters away from Cheshire's middle hitters. Ludlowe's Jaime Quinn (10 kills, three blocks, three digs) keyed the Falcons' resurgence, gaining four of her kills in Game 4.
"They made a nice adjustment," Bavone said. "It took us a little while to react to that."
FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 18 25 20 25 13--2
CHESHIRE 25 23 25 16 15--3
Records: Fairfield Ludlowe 21-2; Cheshire 22-1. Highlights: FL--Emily Nelson (24 kills, 7 digs), Kelly Rotondo (40 assists, 17 digs), Jaime Quinn (10 kills, 3 blocks, 3 digs), Corinne Lang (16 digs); C--Amanda Palladino (18 kills, 12 blocks), Lisa Walle (8 kills, 7 digs), Sarah Rogers (22 assists, 3 kills).