North Catholic tops Ambridge for WPIAL boys volleyball title in clash of Class 2A rivals

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Thursday, May 25, 2023 | 9:36 PM


There were no secrets when section rivals Ambridge and North Catholic met Thursday evening at Peters Township to decide the WPIAL Class 2A boys volleyball championship.

The Bridgers and Trojans split their season series, each winning in five sets.

With the title on the line, North Catholic won the latest encounter.

Each set went down the wire, but the Trojans had the winning formula each time in a 3-0 triumph for the program’s first WPIAL crown.

“This feels really good,” said North Catholic junior outside hitter Lucas Gunther, who was among several Trojans hitters to deliver crucial kills throughout the match.

“All the hard work we put in, the blood, sweat and tears along the way, all the hundreds of hours we put in throughout the season, it all paid off. We came out and did what we knew we could do, and now we have the (championship) trophy.”

North Catholic won with set scores of 25-22, 25-23 and 26-24.

“They’ve really been playing well,” said North Catholic coach Stacie Ball, who saw her team win all four WPIAL-tournament games in straight sets. “The boys played their hearts out. They were serving well and passing well. Those were the kind of things we needed to do. Everything comes from there if you get the serving and passing.

Ambridge is an absolutely great team, and I knew they wouldn’t go down without a fight. They had a lot of fight in them right to the end.”

North Catholic now will turn its attention to the start of the PIAA playoffs. The Trojans will face the District 10 runner-up in the first round June 6 at a site in WPIAL territory.

“We’re really excited about states,” coach Ball said. “When we went to states two years ago, none of them got any playing time. They want to continue to make a name for themselves, and I think they will be able to do it.”

Ambridge took leads on four occasions early in the third set but couldn’t expand beyond a one-point advantage.

North Catholic took the lead at 9-8 and expanded it to 15-9 before Ambridge rallied for four straight points to make it 15-13 and force a Trojans timeout.

Coming out of the timeout, Ambridge extended its run to five and closed to within one at 15-14. But a Luke Ball kill started a response that put North Catholic up 18-14.

From there, the Trojans appeared to be cruising to a win with a 23-17 lead.

Ambridge didn’t go quietly and scored seven of the next eight points to tie it at 24.

But North Catholic would not be denied. A Bridgers serve into the net and a hit at the net from Ball that wasn’t returned wrapped up the set and clinched the championship for the Trojans.

Then the on-court celebration began.

“Ambridge doesn’t give up,” Gunther said. “They are a great team. We knew we were going to get their best effort. We play them at least twice every year, and we know them very well. Their coach, Mr. (Glenn) Freed, keeps them at the top of their game. This was a very hard-fought win.”

The first set, as expected, was close as neither team was able to earn a lead of more than three points until a block from Donovan Bober and a service ace from Tyler McKnight put Ambridge up four at 19-15.

But North Catholic wasn’t rattled and used a 6-1 run to lead 21-20, prompting a Bridgers timeout. Gunther aided the run with back-to-back kills.

The Trojans added to their lead with a Trey Purnsley kill and an Ambridge hit out of bounds, and the Bridgers used a second timeout.

Ambridge got a side out after the timeout and closed to within one, but a hitting error put North Catholic at set point. Drew Palmer then put the set away with a kill, 25-22.

There were eight ties and nine lead changes in the first half of the second set. A Gunther kill put North Catholic ahead 16-13 before Ambridge came back to tie it at 16.

The teams continued to play back and forth, trading points to ties at 17, 18, 19 20, 21, 22 and 23.

An Ambridge hitting error put North Catholic ahead 24-23, and the Bridgers called a timeout.

But North Catholic got the game winner as Purnsley and Nate Ball put up a block to turn away a heavy swing from Bridgers hitter Sam Miller.

Freed said his Ambridge players will get back to work and regroup for their PIAA first-round matchup against the District 10 champion June 6.

“I told the guys that they can be proud of themselves for making it here to the finals,” Freed said. “It is a goal for us every season. We didn’t play our best game, and North Catholic did a great job, and congratulations to them. There’s nothing for us to feel sad or mad about.

“No matter the situation, the guys are going to keep battling. The team came together with five strong seniors. Yeah, we lost in three, but all of those games were so close.”

Mars 3, Latrobe 2 – Derek Piatek had a team-high 15 kills to lead second-seeded Mars to a tightly contested 18-25, 25-18, 28-30, 25-13, 16-14 victory over top-seeded Latrobe in the Class 2A third-place match. Ryan Ceh had 12 kills and Tyler Raabe added 10 for the Fightin’ Planets, who earned the third and final PIAA playoff berth from the WPIAL. Mars will play the District 6 or 9 champion in the first round June 6.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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