By Frank Foreman
Through the first four games, there was no telling which team was undefeated and which team had only one win entering Monday night’s Region 1 volleyball clash between Meadville and Saegertown.
By the fifth and deciding game, the cream rose to the top.
Meadville looked like the better team on the floor for the majority of the match, but Saegertown rallied late in the fourth set to force the fifth game, and went on to defeat the Bulldogs 24-26, 25-19, 22-25, 25-23, 15-9 for the exciting home win.
“We played with a lot more energy in that fifth game,” Saegertown head coach Justin Johnson said. “(Meadville) made a couple of errors at the beginning and we got fired up for the first time all night. We stole the momentum right there.”
The deciding fifth set was dominated by the Panthers, jumping out to a 4-0 lead before holding a 13-4 advantage. The combination of sloppy play from Meadville, which was uncharacteristic for the Bulldogs considering how well they played all night, as well as Saegertown’s building momentum proved to be too much for Meadville to handle.
“Too many mistakes in the last game,” Meadville head coach Ron Newman said. “We just didn’t play defense and (Saegertown) outplayed us in the fifth game. You can’t fall behind a team like that 4-0.”
The five-set loss for the Bulldogs was the third-straight game Meadville has played that has gone the full five sets. Meadville is 1-2 in those contests, and still have yet to piece it all together down the stretch run of a close contest.
“I think it’s mental,” Newman said. “We are young, real young. At times it showed out there. Overall I was pleased, but disappointed. We very easily could have won that in three straight games. We just made stupid mistakes at crucial times.”
In the first four sets, Meadville (1-4) was arguably the better team, opening the night with a 26-24 win that was back-and-forth throughout. Stellar play from Kyle Rose at the net and Tom Leech all over the floor lifted the Bulldogs to the win, and and early momentum swing.
A stunned Saegertown squad didn’t bounce back right away, as the Bulldogs opened up a 7-2 advantage in the second set. Meadville increased its lead to 11-3 before the Panthers slowly climbed back into the contest.
Saegertown (5-0) went on a 13-5 run to even the game at 16, and was able to carry the better play into a 25-19 win.
“We are still making errors due to inexperience,” Johnson said. “We don’t have a lot of varsity experience on the floor, and we’re making those errors.”
Even with the win, Meadville kept a quiet confidence, an attitude that would translate into another strong set during the third game.
During the third set, both teams traded points throughout before Meadville broke a 14-14 tie with a 4-0 run, then held off a flurry of comeback attempts from Saegertown. Leech once again made key plays at key times for the Bulldogs, lifting Meadville to the 25-22 win.
Saegertown had a scary moment midway through the third game when Garrett Johnston went down with a left knee injury. Johnston was going up for a kill when his knee appeared to give out. The sophomore was helped off the floor and did not return to action.
With the match on the line, Saegertown answered the call and began playing with an edge. Meadville kept pace, as the game was even at 22 late in the set. The Bulldogs had chances to seize control, but the Panthers continually fended off the Bulldog attack and stole a 25-23 victory.
Saegertown now had all the momentum, and body language alone made it easy to see which team entered the fifth set with more jump in their collective step.
The Barclay boys led the offensive attack for Saegertown, with Brendon Barclay finishing with a team-high 19 kills, followed by Alex Barclay’s 16. Trevor Pavlik was a catalyst all night long for the Panthers, adding 40 assists to the win.
For Meadville, Joe Coffee pounded his way to an 18-kill performance, followed by Rose with nine. Sam Wyman tallied 19 digs.
“They are going to hang in there,” Johnson said of his team’s ability to continue to fight. “This group of kids won’t shut down.”