By Lisa Byers
Cambridge Springs was just a point away from knocking off Cochranton and forging a three-way tie for first place in Region 2. That’s when Cochranton senior outside hitter Tristan Knauff came through with the biggest points of her career.
Knauff gave Cochranton new life with back-to-back kills to tie the game at 14-14 and the Cardinals rallied for an epic 22-20 win in the fifth set to cap a thrilling 18-25, 25-15, 23-25, 25-15, 22-20 victory on Thursday night at the Bird Cage.
“I really have no words for that,” Cochranton coach Marci Malliard said. “And someone walked by me and said, ‘In all reality no one should have lost that match.’ And I said, ‘True.’
“In 25 years, I don’t think I have ever been involved in a match that has gone to a fifth game and come down to that score. Never.”
That’s what you get when you have the sixth- and seventh-ranked teams in the state — according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association’s latest Top 10 Polls — battling it out for first place in the region.
With the win, Cochranton, ranked sixth, moved to 5-0 overall and in region play and maintains a one-game lead over Maplewood for first place. Seventh-ranked Cambridge, which dropped its second straight region match, fell to 5-2 overall and is now in third place in Region 2 at 3-2.
“They’re a good team,” Cambridge Springs coach John Turner said. “They’re well-coached; they moved well. We had our mistakes. They had their mistakes. It was a good match.”
“When you’re up 14-11, you need to finish it,” he added. “You don’t let them come back. But that’s our problem right now. We give up too many runs and we can’t do that. We’ll get better at it. There’s no doubt.”
Last night’s match was a roller coaster of emotions for both teams and in the final set it hit a whole different level.
Cambridge Springs took the early advantage (4-1). Cochranton did rally back to tie it at 8-8 on a kill by Knauff. But the Blue Devils answered with a 3-0 run to pull ahead 11-8 and led 12-9 when Cochranton mounted another comeback.
Kendell Dickson started it off with a kill and sophomore Alexis O’Donnell served an ace to pull the Cardinals to within one (12-11). Cochranton appeared to tie it when Dickson went up and delivered a punishing blow straight down on the opposite side of the net. But Dickson was whistled for touching the net, pushing the Devils’ lead back to two (13-11) and Jennae Shinsky followed with a service ace to bring the Devils to game point.
Katie Boeckenhauer gave the Cardinals their first breath of life with a kill. Then it was Knauff, first on a roll shot that fell in a hole and then a kill off a block, that pulled the Cards into a 14-14 tie.
“Tristan served well earlier and then to come up with those big swings in the end like that …” Malliard said.
A kill error put Cambridge at game point. But, again, Knauff came through. Still, Cochranton couldn’t take the lead.
A kill by Mackayla Kurt put the Devils back up 15-14. Then came the call of the match.
Unable to get the ball to the front row, Cochranton libero Sam Kinter was given an opportunity to attack the ball. The line judge called Kinter’s shot out of bounds and the Blue Devils began to celebrate an apparent 17-15 win.
But the first referee overturned the call and the game was tied at 16-16.
Cochranton took the lead for good at 21-20 on an ace by O’Donnell. Kendell Dickson finished it with a block.
“It was awesome to battle back like that,” Dickson said. “They were pulling away and at game point. It was nice to battle back. It was fun. It was intense.”
Knauff also played a key role in a defense that was all over the place in the late stages of the match. Kendell Dickson, Kassidy Dickson and Sam Kinter made some unbelievable saves in the fourth and fifth sets.
“Kass had a huge night for us,” Malliard said. “She served tough. She had a really nice match.”
Knauff finished with 18 digs. Kinter had 24. On offense, Kendell Dickson led the way with 23 kills. Kassidy Dickson added 13 kills. Morghan Egli dished out 34 assists.
For the Blue Devils, Shinsky led with 23 kills. Paige Wolfrom added 16 kills followed by Karissa Welker with 10. Mackenzie Turner handed out 32 assists and Amanda White and Karmen Davis had seven and five digs, respectively.
It was the duo of Shinsky and Wolfrom that gave the Blue Devils the momentum after a 25-18 win in the opening set. The two combined for 11 kills, including six by Wolfrom. Then in the third game, it was Shinsky with back-to-back kills finishing off a 25-23 win.
Cochranton’s win sets up a showdown with rival Maplewood on Thursday back at the Bird Cage. The Tigers are just a game back of first place. It is the fifth annual Dig for Cure event, which will feature a silent auction, 50/50 drawing, among various other giveaways.