Lady Colts get dramatic in victory

By Joe Baccamazzi

For the Mirror

COMMODORE — Northern Cambria hasn’t had a whole lot of experience digging deep in a year filled mostly with lopsided victories.

That’s what made a second straight nail-biting finish all the better to coach Mike Hogan on Tuesday night.

The undefeated Colts allowed a two-game advantage to slip away as Allegheny-Clarion Valley stormed back to knot the match, but with its season on the line, Northern Cambria persevered to claim the pivotal fifth set, 15-10, in its PIAA Class A girls’ volleyball playoff opener at Purchase Line High School.

“I’m super pleased with the amount of heart and determination and pride our kids have,” Hogan said. “You win two games and then you lose two, that’s hard, man. That’s a gut check. Everybody was tired and everybody came out strong in Game 5, and we just showed that we wanted it a little bit more than they did, so that was a really impressive win for those girls tonight.”

Northern Cambria (22-0), the Heritage Conference and District 6 champion, won the first two sets 25-21, 29-27 before dropping the next two 19-25, 20-25.

The Colts outlasted Bishop Carroll in five back-and-forth sets to claim their first district title since 2010 on Saturday.

They advance to play Clarion Area (16-3), the third-place team in District 9, in a rematch from the regular season in the quarterfinals Saturday at a location yet to be announced. The Bobcats upset previously unbeaten WPIAL champion Bishop Canevin in five sets to move on.

Clarion Area, a non-conference opponent, was the first of just three teams to push Northern Cambria to five games in 2017, but the Colts seem to be more focused on the here and now.

“We’re just looking to get win by win and go day by day,” senior Ashlee Parrish said. “I’m so proud of my team. We really pushed through those five games. We really want it this year. We knew that if we dropped the set then we were done, and we’re not done, so we really had to push through and get that third game.”

A-C Valley (17-2) appeared to take all the momentum into the deciding set — Northern Cambria never held an advantage in Game 3 and led only once early in Game 4 despite a late comeback attempt. The Colts rallied to forge a 20-all tie, but the Falcons regained the serve to close it out.

After that, it was all about Northern Cambria’s resolve.

The Colts struck first and cruised to a 9-3 advantage and, with the help of a few rare misplaced serves by the Falcons, eventually the win.

“We got a little tired there in the third and fourth set, but then we just gave it all we could at the end and finally pushed through and won that last set,” Northern Cambria senior Breanna Lieb said. “Just in our heads, we were like, ‘We are not losing this set. We are not losing.’ And then we just went all-in, gave everything we had left in us and it came together.”

“We missed four serves,” A-C Valley coach Doug Knox said. “We got excited, we tried to come back and we missed a couple balls. When you play to 15, you can’t miss four serves.

“They gave us a battle. We gave them a battle. They came out ahead. That was a great match.”

A-C Valley regained the serve trailing 12-8 before immediately sending the ball too far out of play, and after regaining possession for the final time, its last serve hit the net to fall short.

Hogan credited senior Mallory Bernard with six perfect passes in the final game, that after being the target of a pair of A-C Valley aces which helped close out the fourth set.

“Talk about gut check,” Hogan said. “Mallory Bernard got a tough break there at the end of Game 4 and she felt kind of responsible for that. I really give her a lot of credit for turning around, starting Game 5 with a pass and a kill. That’s hard to do in this atmosphere, so I’m super proud of Mallory for being able to bounce back after a mistake.”

Each team trailed by as many as three points in the second set. A-C Valley rallied from a 23-19 deficit to force extra play.