By Pete Chiodo
It’s a series of seldom-viewed videos on YouTube. Yet, it’s provided a key for Brad Custead and the Cochranton boys volleyball team as they get set to take on Ambridge in the second round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs.
The match is slated to begin today at 1 p.m. at Slippery Rock High School.
Ambridge is the No. 1 team in Class AA, according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. Yet, the three-time WPIAL champion Bridgers (12-1) are not untouchable.
The proof of that is in the above-mentioned YouTube videos. They depict the match between Ambridge and Beaver County Christian that was played on May 6.
In the first video, Game 1, Ambridge can be seen blowing BCC off the court, using its mix of tall and experienced senior hitters, like 6-foot-5 Penn State recruit Lee Smith; 6-4 St. Francis University recruit Brandon Buck; and powerful 6-2 middle Dan Zajac.
Then over the course of the next few videos, Beaver County starts to hold its ground. The Eagles start putting some successful blocks in front of Ambridge’s hitters, and the back row starts to bring shots up off the floor, providing their own crew of hitters with a chance to attack.
In the end, BCC comes away with an exciting 3-2 victory over Ambridge. It was Ambridge’s only loss of the season thus far. And it all started with defense.
That’s got to be music to the Cardinals’ ears.
“I watched the fifth game,” said Custead. “What Beaver County Christian did was play defense on (Ambridge). And that started to frustrate them and it made them make mistakes.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do, make them make mistakes.”
Cochranton (14-1) happens to be coming off one of its strongest defensive efforts of the season this past Wednesday, which it employed to defeat WPIAL No. 3 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in five games in the opening round of the state tournament.
“OLSH was a solid team,” said Custead. “They played very good offensive volleyball. And that brought us back to our roots of playing defense. And that was a good thing, with us playing Ambridge next.”
Among the defensive stars for Cochranton in the OLSH match was Logan Herzberger, who had 13 digs and five blocks; Josh Vanderhoof with 11 digs and eight blocks; Chad Eisenhooth with 11 digs and Connor Staudt with seven blocks.
Herzberger also had a strong game on offense, knocking down a team-high 16 kills. Vanderhoof had eight kills. Staudt recorded seven.
Those YouTube videos turned out to be a good scouting tool for the Cardinals. The only time Cochranton and Ambridge were in the same tournament was at the Northeastern Tournament earlier this season. That tournament spread 40 teams throughout a number of different venues. Cochranton never got a chance to see Ambridge play in person.
Yet, the Bridgers were already known by reputation.
“They’re solid,” said Custead. “I do know that they’re extremely good. They’ve got a strong offense and they pass the ball very well.”
Ambridge went on to solidify its reputation by picking up its sixth WPIAL championship in seven years with a second-straight title-game victory over Derry Area last week. Then the Bridgers ousted Saegertown from the state playoffs with a sweep in the first round on Wednesday.
Now it’s time for the Cardinals to see if they can, like Beaver County Christian, block out the Bridgers.
“This is what we’ve been building for,” said Custead. “At the beginning of the season we knew that if we made it this far into the state playoffs we would be facing Ambridge. And here we are. We did what we could do. And we knew this was going to be one of our big opponents if we wanted to move on to the next level.”