By Drew Karpen
May 30, 2013 7:00 a.m. PITTSBURGH —
Coming into the PIAA Class AA boy’s volleyball playoffs, Meadville knew it would have its hands full. After finishing second in the District 10 playoffs to Saegertown, the Bulldogs were put in the position to face District 7 champion Ambridge.
The Bridgers and Bulldogs met twice during the regular season in tournament play, with Ambridge winning three sets to Meadville’s two. But Wednesday night’s match up at North Hills Junior High School featured an entirely different Bulldogs’ lineup.
On paper the Bulldogs looked overmatched, and that’s exactly how the match played out in their 25-17, 25-19, 25-21 loss, ultimately ending their season. Even with the loss, coach Ron Newman was pleased with the effort his team put forth.
“I can’t be disappointed with the way we played,” Newman said. “I thought we played well. First game we had a little jitters. We didn’t pass the ball well. For the match we didn’t hit real well but they present a big box so that is going to bring our hitting percentage down. Overall I am really pleased. I think Kyle (Rose) played really well. Mark Miller really stepped it up in the middle. I can’t be disappointed in the way anyone stepped on the floor tonight.”
The Bulldogs hit at a .133 mark during the duration of the match.
The Bulldogs got off to a good start in the first set, matching the Bridgers point for point. With the score tied at 6-6, the jitters started to creep in.
Matt Izbinski, who was setting for the first time this season, struggled to keep the ball near the net, resulting in unforced errors and easy points for Ambridge.
“This is the first time Matt (Izbinski) is setting,” Newman said. “He set for the first time in practice on Tuesday. We had to take advantage of their mistakes and when they sent us a free ball we sent them a free ball back. You can’t do that.”
The Bridgers took advantage of the Bulldogs’ errors, going on a 6-1 run to open up a 12-7 advantage. But Meadville had an answer. The Bulldogs went on a run of their own to close the gap to 13-12 but couldn’t make it over the hump. Eight of the next nine points for Ambridge were on hitting errors by the Bulldogs, allowing the Bridgers to open up a 21-13 advantage and easily giving them the first set victory.
“That was our plan going in, to limit their runs,” Newman said. “A lot of it had to do with inexperience. The first game we didn’t do that but after that I think we did. We played toe to toe with them the last two games.”
Meadville did show signs of improvement in the second set. In a back-and-forth battle, the Bulldogs tied it up at 13-13 after back-to-back points by Izbinski.
Once again Ambridge had an answer. The Bridgers scored three unanswered points to take the lead for good. The Bulldogs were able to stay within two to three points but eventually the size and power of Ambridge proved to be too much as they took the set
With its season on the line, Meadville needed to come up with a formula that worked. But the result wasn’t there. Ambridge jumped out to a 4-0 lead and the set looked like it was slipping away from the Bulldogs early.
Meadville continued to crawl back and took a 12-11 lead at one point, but Ambridge again went on a run to pull out to a 19-16 lead.
It wouldn’t be much longer before the Bulldogs’ season came to an abrupt end. Down to match point, Ambridge’s big hitter Lee Smith put the nail in the coffin with his game-high fifteenth kill of the game.
“Last set we very easily could have won,” Newman said. “We had seven service errors.”
After finishing 9-0 in the region, Meadville ended their season with a 14-2 mark.
“The ending was disappointing,” Newman said. “We played really well during the season. We went with the same lineup all year. Come to the playoffs I had to switch up just about every game. It’s hard to get continuity because everyone is playing different positions.”
Ambridge will move on to face Saegertown on Saturday, who was a 25-14, 26-24, 26-24 winner over Our Lady of Sacred Heart.