The Carolina Forest volleyball squad lost their first match of the season Thursday night.
Unfortunately, the 3-2 defeat came in the second round of the 5A state playoffs, ending their season.
The Panthers entered Thursday's battle against River Bluff with a 14-0 record and a top seed. They knocked off Stratford High from Goose Creek in the first round on Tuesday.
In front of an enthusiastic home crowd, Carolina Forest trailed most of the first set but came roaring back to a 27-25 win. The Gators took the next two sets 25-15 and 25-18.
In the fourth set, the Panthers overcame an early 11-5 deficit to tie the set at 12-12. They grabbed the lead and pulled away to a 25-21 win, evening the match at 2-2.
The Gators took an early lead in the fifth and final set and never looked back, winning 15-9. They will face Wando in the lower state championship.
An emotional head coach Connor Cooper said this Panthers squad is one of the best he has ever coached.
“We had a great year and this was a tough loss, especially since it was our first of the season,” he said. “Our players played their hearts out all season and they had fun doing it. This team has a great chemistry and they were a joy to be around.”
Cooper said he has high hopes for next season with all but three players returning. The Panthers will lose their seniors: setter Avery Campbell, defensive specialist Fallon Tomlin and defensive specialist Catrina Edwards.
Carolina Forest was the last Horry County volleyball team left in the playoffs. Conway (Class 5A), Aynor (Class 3A), Myrtle Beach (Class 4A) and North Myrtle Beach (Class 4A) were all defeated in the first round.