By Lisa Byers
May 30, 2013 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
Saegertown came into the season with lofty expectations.
Early on in the season, though, the Panthers’ boys volleyball team was nowhere near where they expected to be. The Panthers struggled to find consistency. And back then, coming back from a 24-21 deficit once, let alone twice, would have been unheard of.
But the Panthers have proven something this postseason, they are not the same team they were once were. They are driven, determined and ready to meet all those early expectations and more.
Saegertown punched its ticket to the PIAA Class A quarterfinals on Wednesday with a 25-14, 26-24, 26-24 win over Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at Meadville Area Senior High’s House of Thrills.
The Panthers will face Ambridge, a 25-17, 25-19, 25-21 winner over Meadville, on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
“I guess at the beginning of the season we kind of did expect (to be having a successful postseason run),” Saegertown senior outside hitter Dustin Pavlik said. “But as the season went on, we started to slip and our hopes were kind of shattered. We just couldn’t get it together.
“Finally, here at the District 10 tournament we got it together and at the right time, and here we are heading into the quarterfinals.”
Saegertown dominated the first set against OLSH. And it did so using the hot hands of Pavlik and Shane Rigby.
Pavlik led the Panthers with five kills in the set. Rigby added four, including one that a pair of OLSH defenders let fall right between them to give the Panthers a 25-14 win.
Then things got interesting.
The Panthers maintained the momentum to jump out to a 3-1 lead in Game 2. But up 14-10, the Chargers mounted a comeback. OLSH went on a 6-1 run to take a 16-15 lead, its first lead of the match.
OLSH kept at least a share of the lead and was within game point (24-21) of assuring at least a fourth set. Saegertown responded, though, with a 5-0 run that ended with a deafening kill by Rigby off an overpass to give the Panthers a 26-24 win and a two-set advantage.
“That’s kind of a new character we built from the District 10 tournament to here,” Pavlik said. “We’re pulling it all together and learning to fight back and play as a team.”
The Panthers did it again in Game 3.
The third set was quite the battle with neither team able to take more than a four-point lead throughout. OLSH had that advantage at 22-18. Back-to-back-to-back kills by Rigby, Jeff Mattocks and Alex Barclay pulled the Panthers back to within one (22-21). But the Chargers, again, managed to get to game point first, leading 24-22.
Again, the Panthers found a way. Ross Ferguson made a tough save off a block close to the net and managed to get the ball up for Barclay who tipped it over just inside the antenna to an open court. Mattocks followed with a block and Pavlik cranked over back-to-back kills to give Saegertown a 26-24 win and the match.
“I’m not so sure we come back from that early in the season,” Saegertown coach Justin Johnson said. “The team has a different attitude right now. We’ve been concentrating on some things that were our weaknesses and they have become our strengths right now. Hopefully we keep that up because we are going to have to play a great match to win on Saturday.”
One area the Panthers have vastly improved on is their defense, which OLSH head coach Mike McDonald said was the difference in the final two sets.
“We had opportunities to win Games 2 and 3,” McDonald said. “I truly believe the difference was Saegertown, defensively, was able to touch a few balls that maybe normally were down against other teams.”
OLSH was making its first-ever appearance at the state tournament, according to McDonald, who is also the school’s Director of Athletics, Health and Wellness. McDonald said just three players on the roster have ever played volleyball. Needless to say, getting to the first round of the state tournament exceeded expectations.
“Clearly we came in as an underdog,” McDonald said. “Even in our own district we were not expected to be here. I think people will tell you based on what we had this year that there was no way they expected us to be in the state playoffs … We were a tough out (last night) and that’s all I can ask for.”
Ribgy led the Panthers (12-5) with 16 kills. Pavlik was next with 12 kills. Two of Pavlik’s kills came from the backrow off feeds from Rigby. Mattocks had three stuff blocks.
Shaughn McDonald led OLSH with 12 kills.