Freeport wants fast, furious start in PIAA Class AAA volleyball semifinal

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Monday, November 12, 2018 | 11:09 PM


Freeport enjoyed fast starts in each of its first two PIAA Class AA girls volleyball playoff matches.

It took control immediately with a 25-12 victory in the opening game of its first-round contest against District 9 champion Redbank Valley.

The Yellowjackets didn’t let up and breezed to a three-game sweep.

In Saturday’s quarterfinal against WPIAL champion North Catholic, Freeport (18-3) grabbed a key 25-19 win in Game 1 and ultimately held off the Trojans in an emotional 3-2 win at North Allegheny.

Freeport coach Tom Phillips said getting off to a fast start will be crucial Tuesday, as the Yellowjackets rematch against Bald Eagle Area, which hopes to advance to its first state final and gain a measure of revenge from last year’s PIAA first-round loss.

“We were the underdogs (against North Catholic), but winning that first game set the tone, it took some of the pressure off us and kind of put North Catholic on its heels a little bit,” Phillips said.

“We can’t let Bald Eagle get into a rhythm. We have to have that same mentality of coming out strong that we did against North Catholic. From watching (Bald Eagle) on film, one of the main things that stands out is they’re always in position to make plays. They cover the floor so well.”

The match is set for a 5:30 p.m. start at Clarion High School.

Bald Eagle set a tone Saturday in its quarterfinal match against District 10 champion Corry.

The Eagles scored the first eight points and built a 14-2 lead before finishing off Game 1. They then stood tall and rallied from a 19-14 deficit in Game 2 and from down 20-15 in Game 3, winning both by 25-23 scores.

“They’re definitely going to be out to get us,” said senior hitter Ally DeJidas, who had 13 kills against North Catholic. “They are a good team. They are well-coached. They have all of their girls back from last year, so it’s going to be a pretty good match.”

Bald Eagle, winners of back-to-back District 6 titles, was 19-0 last year when Freeport ended its season, and the Eagles come into Tuesday’s match 21-0. They scored a 3-1 win over WPIAL No. 3 Serra Catholic in the first round, and that marked their first PIAA tournament victory.

“They had a lot of sophomores and juniors last year, and we said at the time they would come back and be a team to be reckoned with,” Phillips said.

Bald Eagle features junior setter Madison Rockey and junior middle hitter Grace Hugar.

Hugar was a big presence for the Eagles against Freeport last year with 10 kills, and she delivered 14 kills against Corry.

“Their setter is a big girl,” Phillips said. “She is the glue, and everything runs through her. Hugar is the big gun of their offense. Our middles have to play well to slow her down.”

The teams faced each other in one game at the North Allegheny Tournament on Oct. 20, and Bald Eagle won. Senior middle hitters Sarah Hettich and Haley Graham did not play in that game.

“Now, there is so much more on the line,” Phillips said.

Hettich saw game action Saturday for the first time since suffering a right foot injury against Knoch on Oct. 10. Her 6-foot-3 presence and putting up a tall block against North Catholic’s hitters, including sisters Dominique and Alana Felix, Phillips said, was a key part of the victory.

“It really felt great to be out there and help my team win,” said Hettich, who finished with eight blocks.

Strategy, including the defensive gameplan, kept Graham on the bench against North Catholic.

“I don’t think they expected Sarah to come back and play,” Graham said. “I think that kind of threw them off, having that big block out there.

“It was a little weird not playing, but I understood why. There was a chance I could’ve played right side, but we were doing so well in our rotations. I know whoever is on the court you can count on them and believe in them. The win is the most important thing. I was as excited jumping up and down on the bench as they were on the court.”

Junior outside hitter Lauren Lampus led the team Saturday with 16 kills and 18 service points. Junior setter Maddie Clark delivered 50 assists. Freshman libero Erica Lampus had a team-best 18 digs, and junior middle hitter Isabella Russo fronted the squad with nine blocks.

“Everyone contributed Saturday,” said sophomore Emily Schmidt, who had nine service points. “You saw that on the stat sheet. That’s what we need.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-388-5825, mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.

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