CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — You could see the quaking limbs and the desperate faces on the players. You could feel the tension vibrating through the stands. And when it was all over, you could hear the exhausted/delighted sighs of the fans who had most definitely got their money’s worth.
It just had to be Cochranton vs. Cambridge Springs.
For the third time in four regular season matches, the Cardinals and the Blue Devils squared off in a five-game barnburner, with the fifth set going into extra points.
In September of 2013, Cochranton won it over Cambridge 18-25, 25-15, 23-25, 25-15, 22-20.
Earlier this season, it was Cambridge Springs earning a measure of redemption, 22-25, 25-23, 27-25, 23-25, 16-14 over the Cardinals.
Tuesday night’s battle may have topped them all, however. Cambridge won the first set 25-22. Then Cochranton ran off two straight lopsided victories, 25-13, 25-11. But the Spa bounced back to win game four 25-22.
Then came the electrifying fifth set.
“I just thought to myself, here we go again,” said Cambridge head coach John Turner.
Cambridge Springs had match point six times, only to have it broken by Cochranton. Cochranton had match point broken by Cambridge four other times. Finally, the Cardinals strung two points together to finish off one wild night, 23-21.
“Oh yeah,” said Cochranton head coach Marci Malliard. “It was exciting. We were both out of timeouts. So it was all up to the kids to finish out in that last one. Give it to both teams, though. They got after it the whole time. Nobody held off and tried to play careful. Everybody was aggressive. We just got out on the lucky end of the court.”
With the win, Cochranton improves to 8-4 overall and 8-3 in Region 3, taking sole possession of second place behind champion Maplewood.
Cambridge Springs slips to 7-4 both overall and in the league standings, dropping the Devils to fourth in the region behind Saegertown.
Yet, Turner wasn’t too dejected after his team had put up a heck of a fight.
“I thought we played well,” said Turner. “I was still disappointed that we lost. A loss is a loss, whether you play good or play bad. But, overall, I’ve been more mad after wins that we’ve gotten than after this loss.”
Cambridge’s good moments were squarely located in the first and fourth sets, during which the Spa’s big hitters — McKayla Zilhaver, Camryn Schmidt and MacKayla Kurt — kept the Cochranton defense guessing.
However, the Cardinals turned the tables and rode a surge of momentum through two dominant performances in sets two and three. Everything seemed to be finding the hardwood for the Cardinals, even what looked to be free balls coming out of the back row. The Cards would take a whack at it and find a way to score.
“We practiced that a lot, swinging out of the back row,” said Malliard, “especially at the beginning of the season without Kass (Dickson) we didn’t have a lot of offense in the front row. And we needed it to come from somewhere, so we worked on that.”
Dickson ended up leading the Cardinals with 21 kills and six blocks. Lexi O’Donnell followed with 14 kills and 12 digs. Sam Kinter led the ‘D’ with 21 digs. Shelby Staudt had 13 digs. And Morghan Egli tied the effort together with 40 assists.
Yet, even those efforts couldn’t hold off Cambridge in Game 4. Cambridge rediscovered its swing, especially Zilhaver, who had a brilliant set, notching eight of her 20 kills.
“There wasn’t much we could do with (Zilhaver) out there,” said Malliard. “She hit very well when she got going.”
Zilhaver also had 15 digs on the night. Schmidt finished with 11 kills. Kurt had nine kills and 14 digs. Amanda White had 11 service points and 14 digs. Kayla Parkin and Abby Biernacki had nine points each. Madison Seher tallied six digs. Sabre Turner had six blocks. And Amanda Taylor recorded 33 assists.
“Game 4 and 5, we laid it all out there,” said coach Turner. “In Game 4, they came out and said, ‘No, you’re not going to walk away with it. If you want it, you’re going to have to earn it.’
“(Cochranton) earned it. But it was a lot of fun.”