SOUDERTON — Lansdale Catholic felt like it owed Pope John Paul II one after the Crusaders traveled to Royersford and were served a loss back in early October. On Saturday afternoon, the Crusaders got their comeuppance and some.
In four sets (25-20, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23) the Crusades moved onto the PIAA Class AA semifinals while the District One AA champion Golden Panthers bowed out of state contention.
After dropping the first two sets, the Golden Panthers fought back in the third and surged late in the fourth, but the Crusaders were able to stave off their opponent who worked to keep completely improbable rallies alive. The Crusaders' Brynne Taylor contributed 13 kills, 4 blocks and 12 digs, including the game-winning point, in a matchup that found her the focal point of the Lansdale Catholic offense.
"We usually like to move it around a lot. All season long it hasn't just been Brynne carrying the weight, but as we've gotten into the postseason ... she's really taken it upon her shoulders,' said Crusaders' coach Joann Pisch. "The night we won the PCL, (Philadelphia Catholic League championship) she was unstoppable.'
The Golden Panthers were taken out of their comfort-zone and unable to run their offense, which led to dropping the first two sets. In crunch time, the Golden Panthers were just as good if not better than their opponents, but the Crusaders' ability to maintain constant pressure put them over the top.
"I really knew I had to keep the ball in play and pick my shots. Pope John Pope is a very good defensive team and they cover the floor ... you really got to spread out your offense,' Taylor said.
The fourth set could have been anyone's game. Down 5-2 early, the Golden Panthers fought back to their first lead at 17-16 with each team trading points until they stood at 20-20. The Crusaders managed a key side-out after Tori Cruciani's attack sailed out of bounds and from then on it was crunch time for the Golden Panthers. No point came without multiple bodies hitting the floor, but it was Taylor who managed the final kill before the Panthers forced extra points.
"We had the momentum in the fourth game, and once you have that you just have to keep rolling with it,' Taylor said. "When you get set you have to have the mindset that you're going to kill this ball and the point is ours.'
Had the Golden Panthers won the fourth set, the match could have gone either way. It would seem that winning the first two sets would have put the momentum solely in the Crusaders' hands, but had the Golden Panthers rolled into the fifth on a two-set streak, the match would have surely been a toss-up.
"Our defense was pretty good, but Brynne Taylor played a really, really good game,' said PJPII coach Ryan Sell. "She controlled the offense for them and they passed us extremely well ... they served us tough so we had problems running our offense. It was tough.'
Lefty hitter Morgan Shemonski had an equally impressive game for the Golden Panthers with 14 kills, but without running their offense effectively, the Golden Panthers couldn't feed the ball enough to the opposite side.
"They did a really good job keeping us out of system,' Sell said. "We were always throwing the ball outside and we were predictable at that point.'
Golden Panther setter Geena Bevenour did all she could to keep the rally alive, as Pisch described her she "betters every ball,' as in she improves her team's ability to attack, and with her 33 assists she ran the offense with precision. The biggest differential came in the form of digs — whereas the Golden Panthers had 33 digs, the Crusaders countered with 108 and 25 by outside hitter Chelsey Dutkiewicz alone. Simply stated, one team was able to recover and attack while the other failed to bounce back.
"It's unfortunate that someone has to go home today. It's unfortunate that it has to be us,' Sell said.
Lansdale Catholic will face Delone Catholic in the state semifinals on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at a yet-to-be determined site. Details will follow in advance of the match.