Ambridge again rallies past Derry to win WPIAL Class AA volleyball title

Thursday, May 24, 2018 | 9:30 PM

After Derry cruised through the second set to seize control of the match, it looked as if it was going to break a 20-year WPIAL championship drought and at the same time get past finals nemesis Ambridge in the process.

Instead, the match became a flashback to 2012, and it wasn't a good memory for the Trojans to relive.

Just like they did six years ago, the Bridgers took the third set and the momentum with it.

Then second-seeded Ambridge took the fourth set and eventually came all the way back to break the hearts of the Trojans with a 3-2 victory in the WPIAL Class AA boys volleyball finals Thursday night at Baldwin.

It marked the fourth time Ambridge has defeated Derry in the finals since 2012. Ambridge secured its ninth title and first since 2015.

“We just haven't been a good five-set team, and that's on me,” Derry coach Shawn Spencer said. “We went to five sets with Deer Lakes twice last year and lost both of them and then lost this one with Ambridge. We've done pretty well with three- or four-set games, but just haven't been good with five sets.”

Derry had a 14-13 lead in the fifth and served for match point, but a net violation was called on the Trojans. Following a hitting error by Derry, Devin Dishong had a block fall just over the net and onto Derry's side for the deciding point.

Dishong was mobbed by his teammates following the game-winner, and the Ambridge student section rushed on the court to join in the celebration.

Dishong and Liam Buck helped stabilize the Bridgers in the third and fourth sets. They had 15 kills apiece.

“Dishong just has so much energy,” Ambridge coach Gleen Freed said. “He's a great senior leader, and he kept pushing those guys all night. It was just a great effort tonight.”

For Derry, it was a tale of two games.

After a back-and-forth first set, Derry eventually gained control in a 25-19 victory, and in the second they looked poised and controlled.

The Trojans used a 10-0 run in the second, highlighted by a pair of aces from senior defensive specialist Matt Palombo, to take a 15-8 lead. After his second ace, Palombo raised his arm in the air. He was fired up, and so was the rest of his teammates. John Kerr and Jason Geary had a couple of kills apiece, and the Trojans closed out the set 25-14.

Kerr, a junior, had 24 kills. Senior middle hitter Jeff Perratone had 16 kills, including four in the fifth set.

After that, though, not much went right for the Trojans.

“I told the guys that they weren't going to hand it to us,” Spencer said. “They served tougher and played better in the third set. We didn't respond well and lost momentum. Once you lose momentum, it's tough to get it back.”

Freed brought up the comeback from six years ago at a pregame meal. At the time, he didn't know he was foreshadowing the events to come.

“We usually go out to a team lunch at the Olive Garden before the championship, and when we won (six) years ago we went there. I told them that at lunch we were down 2-0 against (Derry) and we came back,” Freed said. “We told them we had energy that whole match. We had energy the whole way tonight and here we are. We did it again.”

Whether it was because of the endless salad or the breadsticks, the Bridgers showed life in the third set. Behind a couple of kills and an ace by Buck, Ambridge took a 17-15 lead and then went on to close out the set 25-20.

Buck had three kills in the fourth, and Dishong finished it off with a hit that spun off of a couple of Derry blockers to give Ambridge a 25-22 win.

Derry will aim to put the disappointment in the past and turn focus to the PIAA tournament. Derry won the state title in 1986, '88 and '95.

“We've been here before, and we just have to put this behind us,” Spencer said. “We have a new season starting tomorrow, and we have turn our focus to that.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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