ED. NOTE: See additional photos by Arianna Hoffmann here.

The most exciting sports event involving a Triangle team this weekend? Without a doubt, it was our Carolina Rollergirls winning a come-from-behind thriller Saturday night over the Steel City Derby Demons, 144-143, before 1,400 ecstatic fans at Raleigh’s Dorton Arena.

The ‘girls grabbed their first lead since early in the bout literally in the last second of action after they’d trailed by 28 with just four minutes to play. Holly Wanna Crackya (pictured at right) was the Rollergirls’ heroine, racing to a huge plus-20 from her jammer position to cut the lead to eight with 2:15 remaining. After Princess America sliced the eight points to four with a winning — and swift — jam of her own, Crackya returned for what proved to be the final jam. She blasted through to the decisive plus-5 as the game clock expired, then threw her hands in the air in triumph as the Demons watched helplessly.

For the Rollergirls, this seems like it was a critical victory in a couple of ways. First, it should mean that they hold onto their 5th place ranking in the East division of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Steel City (Pittsburgh) came in ranked 7th but clearly looking to move up after winning two of their three games at the recent Eastern Regionals in Raleigh, where their one loss was to the regional champions, the Philly Rollergirls.

As important, even with the veteran (and my favorite derby name) Celia Fate on the bench nursing a strep-throat illness, Carolina was able to overcame a Steel City team that jumped on them early (26-0) and then, after halftime, jumped on them again.

The Derby Demons turned a close game at the half into an impending rout with a 33-3 run over the first two jams of the second half. At that point, Steel City led 97-60 and their big frontline blockers, Athena and especially Betty Bonecrusher, were physically overpowering their smaller Carolina rivals — thus, the Derby Demon jammers were racing through bigger holes than the N.C. State football team’s been allowing.

But just when it seemed like the Rollergirls were a bruised and beaten bunch, they sucked it up and literally fought their way back into the contest. Crackya, Princess America, Pink Slip and DVS, according to my notes, all had successful jammer runs as part of the comeback. But this was a solid team effort, with the Rollergirls’ blockers battling the Demons’ pack on more than even terms the rest of the way, opening holes for their own scorers while stuffing the Demons’ jammers behind a wall of black-and-red.

For a Rollergirls team that fell out of the top four in the East after the Regionals in September and thus failed to advance to this month’s WFTDA Nationals, it was a test of their resolve, and they passed it big-time. The Regionals exposed their lack of size — the Rollergirls are fast but, with the exception of the rangy Deviled Legs, don’t have the muscle of their Northeast rivals (Philly, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh) — and it underscored their need for crisp teamwork. At the start of last night’s game, and again at the start of the second half, they didn’t have it. But when they fell behind, they dug deep and found it.

“We came back from the grave!” an exultant Princess America exclaimed. “It was a late Halloween! They had some really big, really agile girls, and that’s really scary.” She said the Rollergirls’ blockers told her they had her back and she was sure they’d get her through, which they did. “I am really proud of our team,” Pink Slip agreed. “Pittsburgh is a really tough team with some really hard hitters.”

In a preliminary match, the Rollergirls’ B-team, the Carolina Bootleggers, fought hard but fell in the end to the Dixie Derby Girls from Huntsville, Alabama, 86-76. Several of the Bootleggers were seeing their first game action, I was told. The Dixie team is ranked 15th in the WFTDA’s South Central division.

The bouts, a fundraiser for the Interfaith Food Shuttle in Raleigh, closed out the 2009 Rollergirls season. Open tryouts for aspiring Rollergirls will be held in January — check the Rollergirls website for details.