Volleyball semifinals roundup: Ambridge edges Derry to earn spot in WPIAL Class AA final

Tuesday, May 21, 2019 | 10:55 PM

Ambridge’s boys volleyball team is ready to defend its title.

The Bridgers downed Derry, 3-2, on Tuesday night in WPIAL Class AA semifinal at North Allegheny.

“It’s awesome,” Ambridge’s Liam Buck said. “It’s nice going back to WPIALs for the second year in a row.”

Fourth-seeded Ambridge advances to Thursday’s championship match at Fox Chapel at 6 p.m. It meets Seton LaSalle, a 3-2 winner over OLSH.

“We hadn’t seen them before this, so it’s like playing a new team,” Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. “It should be a good matchup.”

Tuesday’s matchup has been a good one the past couple seasons. Last year, Derry entered the WPIAL tournament as the top seed and was on the verge of defeating Ambridge for the title. The Trojans built a 2-0 lead in that match, but the Bridgers rallied for three wins in a row to top Derry for the fifth time in the championship since 2010.

The squads faced each other in March to open this season, and Derry produced a 3-2 triumph.

“It was a great battle. I like this. I was thinking this was going to be the final,” Freed said. “I kept saying the we had to push, and we couldn’t be timid. We had to go after them, even if we made some errors. They did a really good job with that.”

Ambridge used aggressive play to take command early in four of the five sets. In the first one, the team raced to an 8-3 lead. The Trojans cut the deficit to 9-6, but the Bridgers pulled away for a 16-8 advantage. Levi Felbaum’s kill brought Derry within 18-13, but Ambridge secured the 25-17 win.

The Trojans earned their first lead of the night, 6-5, on a block in the second set. Derry broke an 8-8 tie and built a 15-11 advantage. Ambridge’s Josh Meyer cut the deficit to 16-13, but the Trojans pulled away and secured the 25-20 win on John Kerr’s kill.

Once again, the Bridgers used a strong start to take command in the third set. Aaron Hilzendeger’s kill gave the squad an 8-5 edge before Derry called a timeout. Ambridge strengthened its lead to 20-14 on Hilzendeger’s kill. The Trojans made one last burst and cut the deficit to 24-21, but the Bridgers posted the 25-20 win on Meyer’s kill.

Derry built an early advantage in the fourth set, but Buck’s kill tied it at 5-5. The Trojans regained the momentum, and Kerr’s block gave them a 10-8 lead when Ambridge called a timeout. Derry led by five on seven occasions before securing the 25-19 win.

Blocks from David Stuebgen and Meyer and a Stuebgen kill gave Ambridge an early 5-2 edge in the fifth set. The Trojans cut the deficit to 5-4, but the Bridgers went ahead 9-5, and Derry called timeout. Dorien Priddy’s kill gave Ambridge a 12-7 advantage and momentum. The Bridgers posted a 15-11 win.

“I think we did a really good job of just pushing even though, in some of the sets, our level dropped a little,” Buck said. “We stayed focused and kept pushing hard. We did a great job all around. I said in the huddle that it was our best match all year.”

While the Bridgers brought their best, Derry coach Shawn Spencer thought his team struggled.

“It was tough to watch how we played. Honestly, it was pretty embarrassing how we played. That was one of the worst matches we have played all year. We were doing things out of the ordinary. They just got lost in the moment and didn’t handle the moment well. They competed hard, but, upstairs, they just weren’t there,” he said. “I think our weakest point all year has been our lack of discipline when it comes to doing certain things. Tonight, it reared its head pretty well.

“Give Ambridge credit because they played well, but our lack of discipline cost us so many times. It was very frustrating to watch.”

The Bridgers, who are looking for their ninth WPIAL title in 13 years, secured a PIAA playoff berth with the win as well.

“We just have to stay focused, work hard and play as a team, and I think we have a real shot (at winning a championship),” Buck said.

Derry meets OLSH in Thursday’s consolation match. The winner advances to the PIAA tournament.

“They have a chance to bounce back on Thursday. At least that’s a positive for them: a chance to get to states,” Spencer said. “Hopefully, we are able to get our acts together and bounce back Thursday.”

In Class AAA, North Allegheny earned a 3-1 win over Latrobe, 25-15, 25-16, 22-25, 25-16. In the other semifinal, Bethel Park defeated Shaler, 3-2, in a five-set thriller, 25-20, 26-24, 20-25, 19-25, 15-11.

The Tigers and Black Hawks will square off in the championship match at 8 p.m. Thursday at Fox Chapel. Latrobe and Shaler will play in the consolation match at 6 p.m. Thursday, also at Fox Chapel.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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