By Lisa Byers
May 3, 2013 7:00 a.m. SAEGERTOWN —
Justin Johnson’s pre-game pep talk was concise and to the point.
“Pass the ball,” he said, as the Saegertown boys volleyball team prepared to take on Maplewood on Thursday night in a Region 1 match. “Play defense.”
“And have fun,” he stressed.
The Panthers acted on every word.
Shane Rigby finished with eight kills and Jeff Mattocks and Dustin Pavlik added six apiece as Saegertown rolled to a 25-14, 25-8, 25-20 win over the Tigers at Saegertown High School.
Saegertown moved into a tie for third place in Region 1 with the win and is now in a four-way tie for the No. 2 seed in the upcoming District 10 Class AA tournament.
The Panthers, ranked No. 9 in the state in Class AA in the most recent Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association top 10 poll, are now 5-4 overall and 3-2 in the region. Maplewood is 3-4 overall and 3-2 in region play.
“They played relaxed (last night),” Johnson said. “And we play better when we’re relaxed. That’s the way we played on Saturday (at the Seneca Valley Tournament), but not the way we played Tuesday (in a five-game loss to Cochranton).
“Usually when we play nice loose and relaxed we play better.”
One particular area the Panthers improved in was their passing game.
Saegertown came into the season with an quite the arsenal on offense led by 2012 District 10 first team pick Shane Rigby and second team pick Dustin Pavlik. But getting the ball to Rigby, Pavlik and their counterparts has been difficult for the Panthers in the early going.
That wasn’t the case last night.
“Everything was working out there,” said Rigby.
At the start, it looked like Maplewood and Saegertown were going to put on quite a show. The two were neck and neck in the opening set before Morgan Schenberg stepped to the service line for the Panthers. Schenberg entered with a 7-6 Saegertown advantage and left with the Panthers up 10-6.
Maplewood did manage to cut the deficit down to just two (12-10). But Saegertown responded with a 7-0 run to push that lead to nine and Maplewood never recovered.
Game 2 was also within a two-point spread early. Schenberg, again, gave the Panthers a cushion (11-5). Maplewood had the serve just twice more the rest of the way.
“We can play better than that,” Maplewood coach Sheila Bancroft said. “We’re just in that little bit of a slump right now. Every part of the game.
“It’s the same thing we did against McDowell. We didn’t play the first two games and then we decide to play in the third game and by that time it’s too late; we’ve already dug ourselves too deep.”
Maplewood did have the Panthers on the ropes in the third set. The Tigers jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the game and did not surrender the lead until midway through when a kill by Mattocks put the Panthers up 13-12.
Maplewood did manage to tie it up at 14-14, but a net violation gave led back to the Panthers and they rolled from there.
“We played better in the first two weeks of the season, but it doesn’t seem like we are progressing,” Bancroft said. “We’re going backwards.
“I don’t have the answers right now. It is what it is. We’ll go back to the gym and hopefully turn it around for next week. It’s very frustrating because I know they have more than that.
“It’s not that we are a better team than Saegertown and those teams, but we definitely can play better than what we are.”
For Saegertown, it is hoping last night’s performance was what it needed as the regular season winds down.
“I think we are going to start building some momentum now,” Rigby said. “And hopefully we can keep rolling through districts.”
Ross Ferguson dished out 22 assists for the Panthers. Mattocks added five blocks.
For the Tigers, Dustin Delo and Miller Peters had four kills each. Justin Dahl had 14 assists.