For a few minutes, the State College boys’ volleyball team appeared destined for a win and extending its season.
But as quickly as the Little Lions turned around their PIAA first-round match Wednesday night, as quickly as they seized the momentum, Bethel Park took it away and grabbed the victory.
The Black Hawks are heading to the state Class AAA quarterfinals, while the Little Lions’ season is finished.
Bethel Park halted the State College rally with a 25-18, 25-23, 21-25, 14-25, 15-8 victory at Bishop Carroll High School.
“I was hoping,” Little Lion coach Kim-Li Kimel said. “We didn’t execute when we needed to.”
The Black Hawks (18-2) will get a rematch of last week’s District 7 championship match in Saturday’s quarterfinals. North Allegheny won that contest in five sets.
The Little Lions (10-8) were paced by Eric Deshong’s 16 kills, five blocks and two aces; Deniz Demirci’s 15 kills, 11 digs and two aces; Ibrihim Almoaiqel’s 13 kills and 10 digs; Andrew Groves’ 50 assists and three aces and Noah Hanahan’s 29 digs.
Bethel Park’s Grant Underwood had 16 kills while Camden Hay added 10 kills, Jacob Dixon registered nine kills and Robert Huntington recorded eight blocks.
After Bethel Park had taken the first two sets, Kimel talked to her players during the break about making a memorable moment they can talk about for years to come.
“Between games 2 and 3, we told them, ‘This is an opportunity to do something special. You can chase that moment,’” Kimel said. “For them to respond like that, it was really, really nice to see. They will take this game with them even though they lost.”
It took a while, with the third set knotted at 16-16 before a Demirci kill put State College in the lead for good as the Lions outscored the Black Hawks 9-5 from that point.
“We knew they were going to come back,” Bethel Park coach Tom Allman said. “I thought they were going to come back in the second game. Their report was they would lose the first game, miss a lot of serves, which they did, but they would come back in the second and win and put teams away.”
It may have taken an extra set, but the momentum was definitely on State College’s side in the fourth, blistering the Black Hawks with six of the team’s seven aces along with holding Bethel Park to just two kills.
“Towards the end of the fourth set, we were dominating,” Almoaiqel said. “The atmosphere was to our advantage, the momentum was to our advantage, we just closed it out like we should have opened the fifth set, but we didn’t.”
State College built an early 7-2 lead, never trailed and never let the Black Hawks get closer than two points before rattling off the final six points of the game.
“It was awesome,” Demirci said. “We were passing, putting balls down and in the end we won it – the fourth set.”
The biggest difference was the serving, with Deshong, Groves and Demirci each getting two service winners, and even the ones the Black Hawks managed to corral, they were unable to generate much offense.
“They were spotting where they needed to get them with a lot of power,” Allman said. “We were having a hard time controlling them.”
It appeared the match, at that point, was State College’s to lose.
“I was definitely fearful for my life, especially after the momentum they got back,” Allman said. “The momentum was definitely switched to their side.”
State College held its last lead at 6-5 after a Demirci kill – a mere 11 points away from a win – but the Little Lions would post only two more points the rest of the night, despite two timeouts called to curb the run, and a cross-court kill from Hay ended the match.
“Because it was a short set, we needed to fight back,” Almoaiqel said. “We did towards the beginning, but we let it slip away. We can’t do that in a short set.”
Bethel Park made just three errors in the final frame against State College’s four, and held an 8-5 advantage in kills and a 2-0 blocking ege.
“It’s so disappointing in that we destroyed them in the third and fourth set,” Almoaiqel said. “To lose in the fifth set by that much is just disappointing. It was our game and we really should have stepped up that game.”
For the night, the Little Lions had the better numbers in kills (53-45) and aces (7-2) but also led in unforced errors (41-30) and the Black Hawks won the blocking battle 11-8.
“Because our guys know the potential they had, it stings a little bit,” Kimel said. “We know we can compete. We would have loved to have seen North Allegheny.”