By Lisa Byers
June 2, 2013 7:00 a.m. SLIPPERY ROCK —
The Saegertown boys volleyball team has had a refuse-to-lose mentality this postseason. Its run ended with that very same approach.
The Panthers put together a valiant effort Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the offensive power of Lee Smith and Ambridge. The Bridgers ended Saegertown’s season with a 25-21, 25-16, 25-23 win over the Panthers in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class AA state playoffs at Slippery Rock High School.
“They should be proud of what they did (yesterday),” Saegertown coach Justin Johnson said. “The second game we didn’t play very well and I didn’t know what to expect the third game.
“But they went out and left it all out there. We just came up short.”
The Panthers made the Bridgers, ranked No. 2 in the state in Class AA by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, work for each and every point yesterday afternoon and had opportunities to take the first and third sets.
In the opening game, Saegertown jumped out to a 7-3 lead and dominated at the net. Dustin Pavlik had a pair of kills during the run. Shane Rigby and Ross Ferguson each had a kill.
Ambridge, meanwhile, had six hitting errors through the first five rotations, including one each into the block of Ferguson and Jeff Mattocks.
The Panthers were on a mission. But then Smith came alive.
Ambridge tied it up at 10-10 after a kill by Smith and block by Andrew Stojan and took an 11-10 lead on a Saegertown hitting error.
The Bridgers, after two more ties, eventually extended that lead to two (15-13) — its largest lead of the match.
The Panthers didn’t give up. Saegertown responded with a 4-1 run to take a 17-16 advantage and took a 19-17 lead on a kill by Pavlik. Once again, though, Smith came back firing.
Smith pulled the Bridgers back to within one (19-18) with a kill and added four more down the stretch, including a tip for game point, as Ambridge rallied back for a 25-21 win.
“I think this would have been a different match if we could have snuck that first game away,” Johnson said. “We were in control. We just let it get away from us in the end.”
Ambridge responded with a dominant second set. Smith had six kills in that set as the Bridgers cruised to a 25-16 win.
The third game was a different story. With the season on the line, the Panthers gave it everything.
Saegertown matched the Bridgers kill for kill in the third set, which featured several big defensive plays by both units, and led by as many as three points (14-11). The Panthers took that three-point lead on a thunderous kill by Mattocks.
Just like before, though, Smith came to the rescue.
The Bridgers finished the game on a 14-9 run. Six of those points were scored on kills by the 6-foot-5 junior Smith.
“He’s about as good of a player as you’ll ever seen,” Johnson said. “I’ve been doing this for a while as a player and a coach and I’ve seen very few people take over a match like that and make so few mistakes.
“The kid didn’t make any mistakes. I think he served one ball in the net and served one ball in the net. That is unheard of at this level.”
Smith hit one ball into the net and one out of bounds along with his service error. He finished the match with 26 kills. That’s an average of 8.7 per set.
“Just an awesome match,” Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. “He’s such a star player, but (yesterday) he just turned it up another level.
“When you have your great players play better than even they normally do, you have to be happy with that.”
The Bridgers needed that kind of effort.
“Saegertown is such a strong team,” Freed said. “So everything we were trying to do, they were stopping. So we had to make some adjustments. It was a good match.”
Pavlik led the Panthers (12-6) with 16 kills. Rigby added 10.
Yesterday’s loss not only marks the end to the Panthers’ season but to the high school careers of six players, Ferguson, Mattocks, Greg Bras, Tyler Dangel, Pavlik and Rigby.
Ambridge advances to Tuesday’s semifinals where it will face either Lancaster Mennonite or Derry.