Bobcats tame the Barons for District Three title
BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor
, Staff Writer
Josiah Hershberger described the Northeastern boys volleyball team as the "most complete" team that Manheim Central has faced this spring.
The Barons’ senior star wasn’t likely to get an argument from his teammates or coaches.
Boosted by an intense service game, tenacious defense and aggressive attack led by Stephen Braswell and Reese Devilbiss, the top-seeded Bobcats knocked off the second-seeded Central boys with a 3-0 shutout (25-18, 25-18, 25-15) to take home their 13th District Three Double-A championship at Dallastown High School last Friday.
"They have so many hitters, so many options at any time, the defense was a good, complete defense and I think they’re probably one of the best teams we’ve faced," Hershberger said of Northeastern, the fifth ranked team in the State at the end of 2012 according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. "I think they’re the most complete team we’ve faced so far this year."
"They’re a fantastic volleyball team," Manheim Central coach Craig Dietrich said."They’re very, very well coached, probably the best coaching staff, bar none, in the State … I mean, there’s really no shame (losing to Northeastern)."
The loss dropped the Barons to 19-3 on the season, but as Dietrich and Hershberger both noted, all three of their losses have come at the hands of the other three squads who were playing for District gold in the Dallastown gym last Friday. Hempfield, who defeated the MC boys for the L-L League crown, dropped Central Dauphin 3-1 to capture its 13th District Three Triple-A crown. The Rams, meanwhile, bested the Barons in a non-league match on April 25.
"I mean, there’s nothing to hang our heads about," Dietrich remarked. "I think if anything, the guys are disappointed that we didn’t play high-level volleyball (against Northeastern) like they knew they were capable of. I’m very proud of this team. I probably don’t say that enough even to the guys, to you guys in the media. I’m very proud of this group and how far we’ve come. We just ran into a buzz-saw tonight. They’re a good volleyball team and if we play our cards right, we’ll see them again in the State semi-finals. We’ve got to win two matches, they’ve got to win two matches, and we get to do it again."
Northeastern was playing its cards right early in game one last Friday night, taking the early lead and holding a 3-2 advantage on a thunderous kill by Malik Jefferson.
"They were definitely the more aggressive team," Hershberger said. "I mean, the first hit of the game, they just absolutely smothered the ball. I think it got into everybody’s heads a little bit. We kinda got up on them, but they just came right back. They were definitely a very big team."
Hershberger’s ace put Central ahead 5-3 and then Luke Spang’s kill made it 6-5, and then after the Bobcats scored the next three points, the Barons came back to tie it at 8-all
But a setter dunk by Northeastern’s Luke Braswell capped a 6-1 run, which put the Bobcats in front 14-9. The Barons cut Northeastern’s lead to 15-13 on one of Hershberger’s match-high 16 kills and 18-16 on a Bobcat error. But that’s as close as they got, as Northeastern finished the game on a 7-2 run, with Braswell adding the exclamation point with an ace. Braswell, who led the Bobcats with 12 kills, also picked up two aces and nine digs.
"(Stephen) Braswell and (Reese) Devilbiss are two big-time players," Dietrich said. "The setter (Luke Braswell) is very smooth. So you can easily say there’s a little continuity there. They can be impressive from all over and I think there were a lot of times where they showed, ‘Man, when they’re on all cylinders, is anybody going to stop them?’ You like to think you can, but they looked pretty good for longer stretches of volleyball than what we were tonight."
The Bobcats (18-1) picked up in game two where they left off in game one, as Stephen Braswell’s ace kicked off a quick 6-1 run. Later, back-to-back aces from Devilbiss, including one off the tape at the top of the net, pushed Northeastern’s lead to 12-5. Devilbiss led the Bobcats with three aces.
"I thought we could have done better," Hershberger commented. "I felt like they were a really good team, they played really, really well, but I just felt like we could have given a little bit more effort and played a little bit better defense and sided out better."
To the Barons’ credit, they didn’t go quietly. A Spang/Brayden Fahnestock block cut their deficit to 13-11 and Hershberger’s kill made it 15-13. But Northeastern scored the next five points – and 10 of the next 15 – and took a commanding 2-0 lead with the 25-18 decision.
"They’re definitely the biggest block I’ve seen all season," Hershberger said. "They always had three blocks up on me and I definitely have never faced a block like them all season."
"They just played more aggressive volleyball than us is what my synopsis of things are," Dietrich said. "There were a couple of times that we were tentative to the ball and they were overly aggressive to the ball. That, and it just felt like we were playing catch-up all night. It really did. I said to the guys, ‘If you give them a five-point lead against a really good team like that, you’re not going to catch them. Slim and none.’ We did catch them a couple times, we got within a point or two, and (Northeastern) just went on another run. It just wasn’t our night. I try not to overanalyze things too much … it’s just it was their night."
That was evident in game three as the Bobcats answered early deficits of 4-3 and 6-5, going on a 5-0 run and taking a 10-6 lead on Philip White’s kill. Back-to-back swings by Hershberger pulled Central even at 11-all, and a Northeastern error tied the match at 13-13.
The Bobcats regained the advantage, and Central was still as close as 15-14 following a kill by Hershberger. But it wasn’t meant to be for the Barons. Northeastern reeled off a game-ending 10-1 run to put it away.
Spang, who finished with three kills, led the Barons with four blocks in the losing cause. Hershberger added two blocks and Shaun Sauder paced the Barons’ defensive effort with 13 kills.
"(Northeastern) served very aggressively, our serve receive was not very good, we were out of system," Dietrich said. "(Setter) Robbie (Lawyer) was running around, so it was a little disappointing that way, but again, it’s a credit to what they did.
Dietrich said that while he was disappointed with the outcome of the match, he wasn’t disappointed at all with his players.
"At this point, there are 16 teams that still can see that their season continues and you know what, we’ve reached the pinnacle of everything," Dietrich said. "We won our Section, we lost in the League finals, we lost in the District finals. We have a lot to hang our hats on right now."
Last Friday’s match was the Barons’ second appearance in the District Three Double-A finals in program history. They also fell to Northeastern in the 2009 title match, but Dietrich ruled out the notion of a mental block for his team against the Bobcats.
"I know that if we play at our highest level, we can beat anybody," Dietrich said. "And what you saw tonight is that we didn’t match their level of intensity. We matched their athleticism at times, but we just didn’t play well. I don’t think that there’s a block. If we lose to them maybe one, two, three more times, there might be a block. But they’re just a little ahead of us right now. And that’s OK. We’ve got another couple of weeks to figure them out. Credit to them. That’s a fantastic volleyball team."
Last Wednesday, the Barons got over the hump after back-to-back losses in the District semi-finals, riding an eye-popping 36 kills from Hershberger to defeat L-L rival Lancaster Mennonite for the third time this season. After dropping the first game, Manheim Central rallied to claim the next three to earn the 3-1 decision (20-25, 36-34, 29-27, 25-19).
Manheim Central, wanting to avoid a 2-0 hole, took a 24-22 lead, but couldn’t quite put away the pesky Blazers in regulation. LMH pulled even at 25-all, and although the Barons served for the set on three different occasions, they were unable to seal it until Tucker Ford’s tip snapped a 34-34 tie and then Hershberger recorded a game-winning kill.
After taking the third game 29-27, in which the Barons overcame a late 24-19 deficit, Manheim Central finally claimed the victory with another hard-fought 25-19 decision in game four. Lawyer finished with a match-high seven blocks, while Ford and Nate Ginder each helped out with one ace.
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