Albany State senior Amber Gatling, center, reacts after the Lady Rams lost a point in the fifth set of Wednesday’s loss to Columbus State. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Albany State senior Amber Gatling, center, reacts after the Lady Rams lost a point in the fifth set of Wednesday’s loss to Columbus State. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — Albany State senior Ashley Johnson walked off the court Wednesday night with one thought.

“We should have won,” she said, shaking her head in the moments after the Lady Rams’ inspiring comeback against Columbus State fell short. “We were right there, and we should have pulled through.”

Instead, Johnson and the Lady Rams watched first-year program Columbus State escape with a five-set victory after one of ASU’s best comebacks of the season.

Down two sets, the Lady Rams fought back to force a fifth and deciding set, fell behind early in set No. 5 and then stormed back to tie at 13-13. But then Columbus State won the next two points to win the nail-biter in the program’s first volleyball match against Albany State.

“It was disheartening,” ASU coach Robert Skinner said. “You love to see your team fight back, and then after they fight back that long and that hard you want to see them win. You want that for them, because you know what it would do for their confidence and what it would do for our program. That’s Columbus State. They are just a first-year program, but they have a great program.”

Columbus State looked like a program well beyond its years in the first two sets when it rattled off wins of 25-21 and 25-22 to put the Lady Rams in an early hole.

But then Jillian Anderson and Johnson started the third set with back-to-back kills, igniting a talented ASU offense that ended up totaling 46 kills in the match.

ASU never trailed in the third set and eased to a 25-22 win and then fought off Columbus State in a back-and-forth fourth set to win, 25-23.

“It’s good to be able to battle,” Skinner said. “It’s good to be able to not ever give up. They have showed me time and time again that they can battle.”

After falling behind 9-5 in the fifth set, ASU wasn’t done battling.

The Lady Rams won four of the next five points to pull within 10-9 and then eventually tied it at 11-11, 12-12 and 13-13. However, that was as close as the Lady Rams could get against a Columbus State team that is now 13-7 overall in its first official season of Division II volleyball.

ASU fell to 9-8 overall and 1-6 outside of the conference. Kristen Randolph led the Lady Rams with 12 kills, while Johnson and Anderson added 11 and 10 kills, respectively.

ASU libero Kaliah Carter had a game-high 23 digs, and Amanda Cook added 36 assists.

The Lady Rams play again Tuesday at home against Division I Alabama A&M University.