LEESPORT — All season, Holy Redeemer has always found a strong way to close out sets. Whether it was short runs, head-turning spikes or key blocks, the Royals never allowed their opponent to gain any type of momentum.
Saturday, Manheim Central flipped the script on the District 2 champ.
The Barons used runs to close out each set en route to a 3-0 sweep of Holy Redeemer in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals at Schuylkill Valley High School.
Manheim, ranked No. 1 in the state at various points this season, moves into the state semifinals to face off with four-time defending champ Northeastern. Redeemer sees its season end at the same point as last year.
Set scores were 25-22, 25-18 and 25-21.
“Our seniors have been fantastic,” Redeemer head coach Jack Kablick said. “They had that never-give-up attitude. They have left their mark on the program, and they’ve passed the torch to the next bunch. I feel bad for them, of course.
“We knew Manheim was a fantastic team. They were No. 1 in the state up to a week ago, and they were there for a reason. We went punch for punch and just came up short.”
There’s no doubt Redeemer came to play. And, at times, the Royals had the sets exactly where they wanted them.
An 8-3 run to start the first and a 19-16 lead near the end.
A two-point deficit (17-15) midway through the second set.
And a 17-14 edge in the third while trying to fight back into the match.
Yes, Kablick’s squad was right there – in prime position to possibly advance to the state semifinals.
“We had some unforced errors at the wrong times,” Kablick said. “We had the matchups we wanted. But they were a mirror image of us. Everything was the same. Their three guns were with our three guns, and we knew it would be like that. I thought we played well, and didn’t let up. The unforced errors just hurt.”
Those late-set runs hurt worse.
The Barons closed the first on a 9-3 spurt, rallying back from the three-point deficit.
After utilizing an 8-3 run to finish the second, Manheim Central — the No. 3 seed from District 3 — ended the final game on an 11-4 run.
“In the past, we haven’t had the best of starts to begin with,” Manheim head coach Craig Dietrich said. “To win that first game after being down 19-16, that’s pretty big. I told our guys that it takes 25 points to win a game. I told them to keep their heads down, and just keep playing.
“Once we settled down, I think we had good balance. I felt that No. 44 (Ben Rachilla) could really hurt us. But I knew if we could keep him in check, we would be fine.”
Redeemer was on fire to start the match, especially senior Luke Nealon. Three kills and a thunderous block on Baron sophomore Mason Nissley gave the Royals the early 8-3 edge.
Manheim used a 5-0 run on Brad Myer’s serve to climb back in before back-to-back spikes by Rachilla put the Royals back up 19-16. But the Barons quickly answered with the 9-3 run to end the set, taking away any kind of momentum Redeemer built.
“Against some of the top programs in the state like the Penn Manors and Hempfields, we would be right there at the end, but couldn’t find a way to close them out,” Dietrich said. “Now, we had a match like this where we were able to close out three straight sets against a state-ranked opponent. That’s huge going forward.”
It was just untimely, uncharacteristic errors for the Royals. Twelve service mistakes. Thirteen attack miscues. And a slew of missed passes toward the front row and setter Jimmy Stepanski.
But no one service error hurt more than the final one in the third set where the Royals held a 17-14 lead at that point. The serve went straight into the net, and Manheim captured some lightning in a bottle, winning the next four points and 11 of the final 16 in the set.
“We were looking to serve to spots and serve aggressively,” Kablick said. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward kind of serve. That’s the way we’ve approached them all year. We have no regrets.”
Rachilla, a junior, ended with 16 kills, while Nealon chipped in with 14. Manheim’s big three – Nissley, Tanner Stauffer and Gabriel Stewart – combined for 24 kills.