Alexander Joe, Getty Images
Logan Tom of the U.S., center, waits for the ball from Jenny Barazza (8) of Italy during Tuesday's match in Beijing.

BEIJING — Down two sets to one after a lackluster third set in its women's volleyball quarterfinal match late Tuesday night, the United States rallied behind rare early runs in each of the final two sets to down Italy in a five-set thriller.

Score it 20-25, 25-21, 18-25, 25-18, 15-6 for the United States, which posted its third consecutive, five-set victory to earn a trip to Thursday's semifinals against Cuba.

Outside hitter Logan Tom, the former Highland High star who led the U.S. in points with 19 on 14 kills, four blocks and one service ace, said the quarterfinal match is the hardest to play.

"You've got one chance — you lose, you're out," she said. "If there's the chance, we'll keep fighting."

And fight the Americans did — but only following a little mid-match lull.

After the United States and Italy split the first two sets, Italy burst out to leads of 11-3 and 20-13, holding off a couple of small U.S. surges en route to the 25-19 victory and a 2-1 lead in sets, needing just one more to eliminate the Americans and move into the semis.

"We've got to stop getting ourselves in ruts," Tom said. "We give a string of points away, then we battle back in most sets. But when we give a team a six-, eight-point lead, it's hard to battle back — especially against these top teams right now."

But the U.S. more than returned the favor in the fourth, jumping out to an 8-0 start behind the serving of Laura Berg. The Italians couldn't draw closer than five points the rest of the way.

And the first-to-15 fifth set was nearly the mirror image of the fourth, as Berg's serving paced the U.S. to a 5-0 jumpstart. The Americans cruised on the momentum from there on out with sizeable leads at 9-2 and 12-4 en route to the eventual match-clinching 15-9 score.

"I just do whatever I can and seize every opportunity," said Berge, the U.S. backup setter, "If we didn't win this game, we would have gone home. Obviously we didn't want to; we just did anything we could, and we won."

Danielle Scott-Arruda tallied a team-best 15 kills, while Tayyiba Haneef-Park had four blocks and Berg three aces. Fracesca Piccinini finished with 17 kills for Italy.

Next up for the U.S. is Cuba, a team that downed the Americans last week in preliminary pool play and blitzed Serbia in the three-set minimum in an earlier quarterfinal Tuesday.

"We're going to want a little revenge," said Tom, admitting the U.S. lacked energy and fire the first time out against Cuba. "I think it will be a good match. I think you're going to see a better team out there against Cuba."

Like the Cuba victory, the other two quarterfinal matches needed to go only three sets, as Brazil beat Japan and China shut out Russia.

Brazil and China will meet in Thursday's other semifinal, with the bronze- and gold-medal matches set for Saturday.

Getting to the semifinals keeps the United States' medal hopes alive. But as the Americans learned in the 2000 Sydney Games, back-to-back losses for a semifinalist means watching one's opponent in the final match walk away with a medal, albeit a bronze one.

In Sydney, the U.S. reached the semis, only to falter there and then again in the bronze-medal match to Korea.

"I think in Sydney, we gave it our all there," said Tom, who made her Olympic debut there in 2000. "We'll do the same here. We've got the same fighting spirit."

It's the same spirit that was on display Tuesday night against Italy, turning the 2-1 deficit into the five-set triumph.


E-mail: [email protected]