Freeport girls volleyball team outlasts Philipsburg-Osceola, reaches state final

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Wednesday, November 16, 2022 | 10:14 PM


A pair of district champions battled for five games Wednesday at Punxsutawney High School with a trip to the PIAA Class 2A girls volleyball championship on the line.

In a packed gym, a boisterous crowd saw District 6 champion Philipsburg-Osceola deliver the first shot with a dominant win in Game 1.

Then Freeport responded with back-to-back victories.

Then the Mounties responded.

But in the fifth and deciding game to 15, the experienced Yellowjackets produced the knockout punch.

Sophomore outside hitter Leah Schrecongost put down a kill and then rifled a hit that wasn’t returned by the P-O defense for a 15-8 win and a 3-2 Freeport triumph.

“I fell to the floor as soon as that last point went down,” Schrecongost said.

“I couldn’t have done it without any of my teammates. We all fought our hardest the whole match. That last set, we believed in each other and believed we could do it. The last set was so intense. It feels so good to relax.”

Hits from several Freeport players, including sophomore Alaina Whitlinger, senior Cassidy Dell, and junior Sydney Selker helped Freeport break a 6-6 tie in the fifth game.

Freeport, which lost in the Class 3A state semifinals last year, advances to its first state final since 2017 when it claimed the program’s first PIAA championship.

The opponent for Freeport at 1 p.m. Saturday in Mechanicsburg is District 3 champion York Catholic, which defeated District 11 champion Notre Dame Green Pond, 3-1, on Tuesday.

Bad weather postponed the Freeport-P-O match to Wednesday.

“Our team has this saying, ‘Refuse to Lose,’ and we just kept that in our head throughout the match and in that final game,” junior middle hitter Josie Russo said.

“We made sure we weren’t going to lose. We pushed and finished until the end. We’ve worked really hard all season to get (to the state title game).”

Freeport improved to 22-2 on the season. The Yellowjackets came into Wednesday’s match having lost just one game out of 19 through six postseason matches, but the Mounties (19-2) and junior Division I Indiana commit Reese Hazelton pushed Freeport to the limit.

P-O won the first game 25-12, but Freeport recorded 25-20 and 25-18 wins to go up 2-1. The Mounties countered with a 25-15 victory to force a fifth set.

“I couldn’t be happier right now,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said.

“I thought we really came together tonight. Losing Game 1, (Hazelton) is the real deal. There’s no question about it. We designed a couple things to slow her down a little bit. I can’t say enough about the whole team. It was truly a total team effort. We have six on the floor at any given time, and all six stand out. It was just a marvelous, marvelous match, and we’re so excited to be playing for a state title.”

P-O, which made the Class 2A final two years ago and the semifinals last year, concluded its season at 19-2. The Mounties are a youthful group with no seniors.

“We knew (Freeport) would be really well prepared,” P-O coach Dave Eckberg said. “Their coach has been coaching for a really long time. We knew also that after Game 1, it wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought it was going to be. Credit to them for coming back and refocusing. We did the same thing after Game 4. When your season comes down to one game to 15 in the semifinals, I guess those are the things you look forward to. We just came up a bit short.”

P-O took control quickly in the first game on the hitting strength of Hazelton and junior Sophie Granville.

Hazelton recorded eight kills in the game, and the Mounties led by double digits for the first time at 18-8.

P-O, which also took advantage of a couple of Freeport miscues, capped the game with a hit that the Yellowjackets defense was unable to return.

Freeport took control of the second game, jumping out to a leads of 11-4 and 15-5.

The Yellowjackets started to keep the ball away from Hazelton, and Dell, Whitlinger, Selker and senior Hadley Hellgren all helped contribute to a hit parade for Freeport.

Hazelton had two consecutive hits for points as P-O drew to within 17-9. She finished the game with seven kills, but Freeport stayed in the lead.

The Mounties closed to within 24-20, but a Selker kill finished off the win to tie the match.

The third game was back and forth as the teams were tied seven times through 10-10.

Freeport opened a 14-11 lead, but P-O battled back to tie the score again at 16-all.

The Yellowjackets regained a three-point advantage at 19-16 on a Mounties carry violation and kills from Selker and Schrecongost.

Freeport finished off the win on a Whitlinger kill to make it 24-18, and a Whitlinger-Hellgren block combo accounted for the final point.

The Mounties used a 12-4 run to grab a 17-9 lead in Game 4.

At 24-14, Dell delivered a kill for the Yellowjackets to keep them alive, but a serve from Freeport libero Ava Soilis sailed long, giving P-O the win.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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