Barons advance to L-L finals by holding off pesky Warriors

By on May 16, 2018
Manheim  Central’s  Ben  Burkhart  (2)  looks  to  push  the ball  past Warwick blockers Jake Lobb (left) and Noah Miller (24) in Monday’s L-L League playoff semi-fianls. Photo by Alan Johnson

Manheim Central’s Ben Burkhart (2) looks to push the ball past Warwick blockers Jake Lobb (left) and Noah Miller (24) in Monday’s L-L League playoff semi-fianls. Photo by Alan Johnson

Ben Burkhart plays volleyball as if he’s an old school point guard on the basketball court, nothing flashy, just steady play — sort of the Maurice Cheeks of volleyball.

The Manheim Central setter effortlessly puts his teammates in great positions for success. The senior breaks into a big smile when asked what it was like playing with such athletic teammates

“I just throw it up and let them go get it,” Burkhart said. “I trust them.”

Burkhart threw it up and when needed, the Barons big, athletic front line delivered the knock out punches against a scrappy Warwick squad in the Lancaster-Lebanon League boys volleyball semifinals Monday night at Lancaster Mennonite, winning 26-24, 25-17 and 25-23.

Central, ranked No.2 in the state in Class 2A, will meet Hempfield in the league championship at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Manheim Township.

Warwick plays again Thursday in the first round of the District Three Tournament against Daniel Boone at Lower Dauphin High School. Manheim, which has a bye in the first round of districts, plays Monday in Manheim against an opponent to be determined.

Manheim Central reached the semifinals by beating Penn Manor 3-0 in the quarterfinals Friday. Warwick advanced to the league semis with a 3-0 win against Garden Spot.

There appeared to be a sense of relief on the faces of the Baron players after the hard-fought match against the Warriors (12-5), who were on the brink of doing something no team in the L-L League has done since last year in the league finals. That’s the last time an L-L team beat the Barons.

Central beat Hempfield 3-2 in the semis last season and lost 3-0 to Manheim Township in the championship.

Since then the Barons (17-0) have been on a mission. They wanted to get back to the league finals and avenge that loss. Since that loss to Township, the Barons are 81-1 in match games played this year, dropping just one game all season, and that came in a 3-1 win against York Suburban.

No one in the L-L League has come close to the Barons, but Warwick showed grit and gave it a great shot, tying Central at 24-24 in Game One and trailing 24-23 in Game Three.

As evidenced by Central coach Craig Dietrich’s dress shirt and brow, Warwick made Central sweat.

The Warriors started off hot, serving and playing strong defense to open up a 6-3 lead. The first game featured four ties.

The Warriors capitalized on Central mistakes. Barons had six hitting errors in the first game and three service point errors.

“That’s a lot of errors,” Dietrich said. “That’s nine points. You can’t do that at this level.”

Manheim was pressing at the beginning of the match. Dietrich told them to swing smarter, not harder.

Tied at 8-8, Central seemed to calm down and put together an 8-2 run to go up 17-10. The Barons led 20-13, but Warwick came storming back, getting a key block at the net by Lucas Sauder and Noah Miller to cut Manheim’s lead to 24-23.

After a Warwick serve went too long, the Barons’ Mason Nissley served an ace to close out Game One.

Nissley, a talented junior, had a huge game for the Barons, coming up with key serves, kills and digs to thwart Warwick’s momentum.

Dietrich was glad Nissley was on his game, but cautioned that his team can not depend on one player.

“The first game we were pushed further than we needed to be,” he said. “At this level and time you don’t want to count on it. We became predictable and Mason came through for us.”

The Warriors, a young team loaded with underclassmen, appeared to lose confidence in Game Two, and the Barons capitalized on this, going on a 15-6 run to break the game open 18-9 and cruised to an easy win.

Every time Warwick tried to mount a comeback, Nissley answered with a kill, including a massive smash where he started his run from the back row.

“We started to roll once we got the middle started and Ben helped set me and my teammates up for one-on-ones or one-on-none,” said Nissley, who had 20 kills in the match.

Warwick coach Nate Gajecki rallied his troops between the second and third games, imploring them serve tougher. He noted that Central is a good offensive team, but strong serving would make the Barons’ offense more predictable. He was correct.

Game Three was a nip-and -tuck affair with long rallies, four ties and four lead changes. Warwick’s Adam Kurtz delivered a monster kill to finish off one of those rallies that featured great saves and digs by both sides, giving the Warriors an 8-7 lead.

Warwick led 9-7 and 11-9 and never trailed by more than four points. Central increased its lead to 23-19 on a kill by Isaac Shenk off a set by Burkhart (38 assists). The play was set up by a dig from Nissley and a bump by Burkhart to keep the point alive.

The Warriors, playing great defensively, cut the deficit to 20-19 on a kill by junior Chad Meeder. They trailed 24-23 when Central pulled it out with a block at the net.

Gajecki was happy with the way his squad battled against a veteran Baron club and used Monday’s semifinal match as a learning experience.

“Great play. The kids played great,” Gajecki said. “We started off extremely strong and let them back in the game. We lost some confidence in the second game. They made us hit a lot of errors.”

The Warriors, with eight juniors and two sophomores on varsity, are a mirror image of where Manheim was at this time last year, a young team dominated by juniors. Sauder and Simon Gerofsky are the lone seniors on Warwick’s squad. Central starts five seniors and two juniors this year.

“We are young and they (Manheim) are all seniors,” Gajecki said. “We are a year away from beating this team. We are here tonight to get some experience for next year, so when we are in this match next year we will know what to do.”

He said Meeder (nine kills, seven digs), a junior setter/outside hitter, has been “awesome all year.” Gajecki said Noah Miller had an outstanding game Monday and Aaron Morrissey was an unsung hero with his digs.

Burkhart was impressed with the Warriors’ effort.

“They are a good defensive team and get balls up,” he said. “We just needed to keep playing our game, stick to our game plan.”

Steady as it goes, and oh, yeah, throw it up to his teammate at the front of the net.


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