One win away! Barons advance to Saturday’s State finals

By on June 6, 2018
Manheim Central senior Ben Burkhart tries to tip the ball over the net in the Barons’ win over Ambridge last Saturday in the State quarterfinals. Photos by Kirk Neidermyer

Manheim Central senior Ben Burkhart tries to tip the ball over the net in the Barons’ win over Ambridge last Saturday in the State quarterfinals. Photos by Kirk Neidermyer

In a sense, the Manheim Central boys volleyball team is finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.

All season long, the Barons — with seven seniors on a squad that advanced to the PIAA semi-finals last year — have been hearing that they should be in the PIAA championship match.

On Tuesday night, they made it official.

Behind a solid team defensive effort, the MC boys blanked District 10 champ Cambridge Springs by a 3-0 score (25-22, 25-16, 25-13) in the State Double-A semi-finals at Richland High School.

As Baron coach Craig Dietrich was preparing for a post-game dinner with his team at a steak house, he described his team’s emotions as, “A combination of very confident and also a feeling of relief because there’s been a lot of pressure all year of, ‘Hey, you should be there.’ It seems easy on the outside, and people see it and tell you that, but there’s a lot of hard work that goes in between. So the feeling of relief is, hey, we did put in the work, we did it the way we were supposed to do it.”

Saturday’s State finals, set for 11 a.m. at Penn State University’s Rec Hall, will match the top two-ranked teams in the State together in No. 1 Northeastern, a 3-0 winner over Palmyra, and No. 2 Manheim Central.

The two squads are no strangers to one another, as the Bobcats (20-0) defeated the Barons (22-2) by a 3-2 score in last year’s State semi-finals and again 3-0 in the District finals just two weeks ago.

While Northeastern is the five-time reigning PIAA champ, MC is making its first trip to the finals. Their only other loss this season came against L-L rival Hempfield, who played in the State Triple-A semi-finals last night (Wednesday) after deadline.

“(At Districts), we knew how good (Northeastern) was all year long and I think they know how good we are,” Dietrich said. “I think they exposed some things for us, we made some changes and I think we became better because of that.”

The Barons were in the driver’s seat the whole way against the Devils, taking a 14-8 lead in the opening game.

“Our defense was really good again tonight,” Dietrich said. “We did a good job of touching a lot of balls in the first game we really frustrated Cambridge Springs. Guys were just relentless on defense and we got some key blocking.”

Senior Tanner Stauffer had a team-best five blocks, to go with eight digs. Gabe Stewart led the way with nine digs and Mason Nissley added seven.

Cambridge Springs was as close as 22-20, but MC scored three of the final five points, capped by one of Nissley’s 15 kills, Stauffer chipped in with 11 and Isaac Shenk finished with six.

“The whole team really was on tonight and it made things a lot easier,” Dietrich said. “Offensively and defensively, it was a total team effort.”

It helped the Barons’ cause that they seemed to wear down the Devils’ top player, 6-foot-6 Noah Reisenauer in the second game. Reisenauer led his squad with eight kills in the match.

An early 8-4 edge for Manheim Central in the second game led to a 17-12 run as they grabbed a commanding 2-0 advantage in games. Stewart paced the team with a pair of aces and setter Ben Burkhart finished with 31 assists.

“We thought we needed to serve certain locations to get some guys to touch the ball that maybe they didn’t want to have in serve receive,” Dietrich said. “We saw some things on film that kinda exposed them a little bit. When they weren’t able to get a good pass, they were very limited with their offense. So I thought we did a great job with that tonight and you could tell that they just weren’t comfortable.”

From there, MC was never threatened in the third, and they cruised to the clinching 25-13 win.

“It feels good to be where we’re at,” Dietrich said.

It will feel even better with a victory over Northeastern this Saturday.

“We feel really good about it,” Dietrich said, “and we’re going to try to come out Saturday and try to get the guys loose and play loose. We have nothing to lose.”

***

Last Saturday, junior Brandyn Musser had six digs to lead a big defensive effort from the Barons, helping them sweep District Seven champ Ambridge 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-14) in the PIAA State Double-A quarterfinals at Bald Eagle Area High.

“I thought our defense was fantastic,” Manheim Central coach Craig Dietrich said. “I’ve been harping on the guys, like against Hempfield and Northeastern, why can’t we play championship defense the way they do? And I think the guys really responded today.”

The Bridgers (15-4) led just one time in the match, when they took an 8-7 lead in the third on a Baron hitting error, but it was short-lived.

Overall, Manheim Central limited Ambridge’s runs while playing with the upper hand most of the way.

“I thought we did an excellent job of just keeping the serve in play,” Dietrich said, “and (Ambridge) was really struggling with their serve receive, which allowed us to get a lot of easy free ball opportunities and we were able to execute at a pretty high rate. So it wasn’t anything out of the norm. It’s just I think maybe they were a little frustrated and just weren’t as focused as maybe they needed to be.”

Logan Sweigart’s swing had Ambridge within 10-7 in the opening game, but back-to-back kills by Mason Nissley and another by Isaac Shenk started MC on a 6-2 run, extending their lead to 16-9.

Nissley led the Barons’ attack with 17 kills and Tanner Stauffer added 11.

“I think since that Northeastern match (in the District finals), they’ve been a little bit more efficient,” Dietrich said. “We had a little bit easier of a matchup Tuesday (in the State opener) against Palumbo, and I think it just allowed them to get back into their comfort zone.”

Dietrich also made a switch after playing Northeastern, switching Nissley into the middle.

“It’s been huge for us,” MC’s skipper said. “Everybody’s keying on Mason and Tanner and it allows everybody else to not be the focus. It allows them to get in a situation where, hey, you only have to beat one blocker as opposed to two. So I think that’s been kind of a boon for our offense.”

Musser, previously a libero for the Barons, has been one who has benefited, and his kill — followed by another from Nissley — gave Manheim Central a commanding 21-11 advantage on their way to the 25-16 opening win.

“Brandyn’s grown six inches (to (6-foot-2) since last summer — he’s just getting used to his body and he’s doing a nice job,” Dietrich said. “He understands what I want done and he just has an eye for the ball. I thought he played really well tonight, and that’s kinda what we’re looking for. I don’t care who, just show up. Somebody show up and contribute. We know we’re going to get contributions from Mason and Tanner — if we can get them from Gabe (Turner), if we can get them from Isaac (Shenk) and Brandyn, that’s a bonus.”

The Barons also beat Ambridge in two games in the North Allegheny Tournament back in March, and they were able to continue that success.

“I’m surprised that they were the same,” Dietrich said. “(The North Allegheny Tournament) is the only film we had, and I’m like, ‘I’m just going to use it and if they’ve made some changes, they’ve made some changes.’ And they didn’t and I think that helped our guys knowing that, ‘OK, they’re going to set these two guys (Liam Buck and Devin Dishong) and maybe one other guy.’ And that was pretty much it. So I think we felt good coming off of that.”

Turner’s kill early in game two gave the Barons a quick 6-1 cushion, but Ambridge responded, getting back to a one-point deficit, 6-5 on a kill by Buck, and then pulling even at 7-all, 12-all, and 14-all.

They were still within one, 16-15, following a Baron service error, but back-to-back kills by Turner and Nissley started the Barons on a 6-2 run, and then later, an Ambridge error was the clinching point in Manheim Central’s 25-20 game-two win.

In the third, MC grabbed a 7-3 lead, only to see the Bridgers answer with the next five points for an 8-7 advantage. But Shenk’s kill got the Barons back on track, and two swings by Stauffer eventually pushed the lead to 18-11.

“We knew that (Buck and Dishong) were going to be their main offensive threats and I think the main thing was, we knew they were setting a high ball outside, and we just needed to be patient with the blocking,” Dietrich said. “We didn’t block particularly well. We got a couple, but it was more the digs. Like, if we weren’t digging the ball tonight, that totally changes the complexion of the game, in my mind, which adds points to them for the scoreboard. So it’s a totally different match if we’re not playing defense the way we did.”

Buck’s kill halted the Barons’ run, but Manheim Central yielded just two more points the rest of the way to seal their 25-14 clinching victory.

“We’ll have to block like we did against Palmyra and/or play defense the way we did tonight, and if we can do both of those on the same night, I really like our chances,” Dietrich said. “This is a really good team and I think we’re getting credit for what we do.”

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