WILKES-BARRE — Jack Kablick admits he doesn’t pay much attention to the atmosphere. Instead, the Holy Redeemer coach said he’s totally focused on serve-receive and hitting patterns.
Well, he got a little bit of everything all wrapped into one Tuesday night.
Junior Ben Rachilla had a match-high 20 kills and Holy Redeemer had to fend off a gallant charge from No. 3 seed Berwick en route to a 3-0 victory in the District 2 Class 2A boys’ volleyball semifinals.
Set scores were 25-13, 25-21 and 25-20.
With the victory, the state-ranked Royals will look to defend their title Thursday against No. 8 seed North Pocono. The Trojans ripped through Abington Heights in about an hour in the other semifinal. Berwick is still alive in the tournament as the top 3 from District 2 advance into the state bracket.
“I thought we came out ultra-slow tonight, and I don’t know why,” Kablick said. “Once we got on a roll, we were fine. This is the game we wanted. You don’t want any easy games right now. Easy games won’t help you down the road. If you look at it, four of the best five teams were in this gym for the quarterfinals last week. We had Nanticoke, Crestwood, Berwick and us. You know you are going to see tough games from those teams.”
Honestly, you couldn’t ask for a better setting in a semifinal.
Back-and-forth interaction from both fan bases. Momentum-crushing runs. High drama moments that get the blood flowing through the veins.
And a close match where a few points here and there could have shifted the outcome.
After struggling in the regular season against Redeemer, the Bulldogs showed no fear heading into the Royals’ gym.
As a matter of fact, Sarah Warner’s club jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the first set, held a 5-1 edge to start the second and was knotted at 17 late in the third.
“I was excited with the way we came into this game, compared to the last time we played them,” Warner said. “We wanted to play fearless volleyball, and talked about the fact that Redeemer is going to make plays. But we couldn’t quit on our end. And we didn’t.”
Yet, like most find out, stopping that large Redeemer run is quite tricky.
The Royals ended the first set on a 21-5 run, keyed on large spurts with Matt Blaum and Jude Height behind the service line.
Height also played a big factor in the second set as Redeemer strung together seven straight points on his serve to dig out of an early hole. And it was a 6-0 spurt later as the Royals opened up an eight-point (22-14) lead.
“I am happy with the way I served. Every time I get out there, I’m looking to get on that run,” Height said. “Today, it just came together for me.”
Berwick got kills from Gabe Oliver and Joe Norce to knot up the third set at 17-17. Blaum quickly took away any hopes of a rally – thanks to two big spikes and a service points – and Redeemer won eight of the final 11 points.
“We knew they were a good team. We kind of got down on ourselves early, but everyone picked each other up. We got on a good run, and the bench and Chester Brennan really got into it,” said senior Luke Nealon. who finished with 11 kills. “It just gave us life. You are going to get down sometimes, but we always knew we were going to get it back.”
Blaum and Nealon combined for 19 kills, while setter Jimmy Stepanski added 31 assists. Oliver had five kills to pace Berwick, and teammates Max McCabe and Norce totaled nine spikes.
“Serve-receive played a part in this one because we let them get on too many runs,” Warner said. “If we could have stopped those runs a little sooner, maybe they were games we could have pulled out. But we are still fortunate to be in the position we are in. We still have the opportunity to play, and do something Berwick has never done before.”
Holy Redeemer 3, Berwick 0
Berwick`13`21`20 – 0
Holy Redeemer `25`25`25 – 3
Berwick leaders: Gabe Oliver 5 kills; Ethan Potter 15 assists; Max McCabe 3 kills, 2 blocks; Joe Norce 3 kills.
Holy Redeemer leaders: Ben Rachilla 20 kills, 3 blocks, 4 points; Luke Nealon 11 kills, 4 blocks; Matt Blaum 8 kills, 7 digs; Jimmy Stepanski 31 assists, 7 digs; Jude Height 16 points; Mike Mohutsky 12 digs, 5 assists, 8 points.