And that's how things unfolded for the G-Men against the unseeded Lakers in a Division III district semifinal at LaBrae Middle School.
The G-Men lost the first game rather decisively, then slowly got untracked in game two, escaping with a narrow win to set up the tiebreaking final game.
There the G-Men saved the best for last, scoring the initial seven points on their way to capturing the match 10-15, 15-13, 15-6.
"We just kind of sat back and nobody was taking charge back there. It took us three games to warm up," said Garfield coach Diane Carmen after her team's brush with tournament elimination.
The win catapults Garfield (17-7) into Wednesday's district final against top-seeded and undefeated Maplewood at 7 p.m. at LaBrae Middle School.
It was a nightmarish beginning for the G-Men against the unseeded Lakers, who had reached the district semis with an upset win over No. 2 seeded Brookfield last Thursday.
Unable to pass, receive or block effectively, Garfield found itself in an immediate 8-0 hole and it didn't get much better the remainder of the way, even though the G-Men did rally within 14-10 late in the contest.
"That was probably the worst we have played in a long time," said Carmen. "The passing was terrible and we were hitting balls out and hitting them down."
Game two started a lot better for Carmen and her squad, as Emily Kissell's opening-serve ace highlighted a 7-2 G-Men spurt.
However, the Lakers battled back and evened the count at 7-7, before watching Garfield rattle off three straight points to regain the advantage at 10-7.
Later in the game, Garfield still enjoyed a 14-9 lead and held serve. Then disaster nearly struck.
Pymatuning Valley's Wendy Harvey served four consecutive aces in machine gun-like manner, bringing the Lakers within 14-13.
But Garfield's Sam Foy countered with a critical kill that gave the G-men a sideout.
And although they did not convert on the ensuing serve, they did so two possessions after on a lift against the Lakers.
"The thing that really makes this team fly is that they never give up on each other," said Carmen. "We can't dig a hole as deep as we did, though, and expect to come back and win a game like that.
"In the second game we started putting balls down on the floor and finding open spots. That's what made the difference in the game."
Garfield was able to overcome its poor start Monday, but it better not put itself in a similar situation against Maplewood.
Though the G-Men played Maplewood tough in an early-season loss,
Garfield will be at a distinct size disadvantage against a Rockets team
that features a 6-foot-5 player on the front line.