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Parkland out-blocks Hempfield to reach PIAA volleyball title game

READING >> Momentum, not seized.

The Hempfield Black Knights fell short in their attempt to reach the PIAA Class AAA championship final Tuesday night with a 3-1 semifinal loss to Parkland at Exeter High School.

Parkland defeated the Black Knights, 25-23, 25-23, 15-25, 25-22, to advance to the state title match Saturday at State College, where they'll take on Fox Chapel for all the marbles.

Hempfield's season is over, ending a campaign that saw the Knights go 19-2 and a perfect 12-0 in the Lancaster-Lebanon League.

It was a match that showcased two sides of similar quality. The Trojans survived a third-set clunker to rebound and win by rallying from four points down midway through the fourth game. This came after Hempfield had taken the momentum with a 20-minute, 25-15 third-set triumph — easily its best sustained play of the evening.

But it was not to be. Down 18-14 in the fourth game, Parkland ripped off a crucial 7-1 run, with six of those points coming on-serve.

Hempfield head coach Mike Vogel was sure of the root cause of separation between two evenly match squads, and it came at the net.

"Their blocking was far better than our blocking," Vogel said. "We got into a rhythm in blocking in Game 3, but that was it. We couldn't sustain anything in Games 1, 2 and 4. And we didn't have an answer for No. 24 (Kyle Stout). He was going over the top a couple times.

"It's the mark of a good team. They just didn't make the errors. We spotted them a huge lead in Game 1 and fought back. I thought we panicked, but they didn't panic."

Vogel lamented the inability to build off a stellar third game. After dropping the first two games by a combined four points, his club seized control of the third from the go, building an impressive 20-9 lead at one point, by far the largest lead by either club of the match.

But it didn't build toward anything. The Trojans let it roll off their backs and regrouped with ferocity, going a perfect 10-for-10 down the stretch of the final game on-serve.

"You really do expect a match like this," Vogel said. "I think we had a four-point lead in Game 4 but we couldn't sustain anything. We just made dumb errors. We couldn't generate any offense and they would catch us. The goal is to score points when they're serving so we can take them out of their serve.

"The kids are heartbroken, but we had a good run. In the grand scheme of things, only one team is gonna be happy at the end."

Hempfield fell behind quickly in the first game but battled all the way back to tie it at 21, only to falter when the Knights couldn't knock Parkland off serve until set point. Then, they coughed it up side-in.

Game 2 played out somewhat in reverse. The Knights grabbed an early lead and held it for a while, until Parkland fought back to pull even at 14. From there, neither team held a lead greater than two point. Andrew Hillman ended it with a ridiculously good dump shot that caught Hempfield's entire squad completely off-guard.

For the Trojans, it was a huge character test to shake off a subpar third game and put Hempfield away in four when, from several angles statistically, the thing could have gone the distance.

"I keep telling the kids that being up 2-0 is nice, but you've got to be ready for the long haul," Parkland head coach Scott Trumbauer said. "To respond to the drubbing we got in the third set is just huge. It didn't happen often (this year), but it happened enough that our kids know what to do.

"We can't (play) fast. We can be enthusiastic but we can't play fast, because that's when errors occur. It came down to calming ourselves down and just making the play."

Hempfield's Ben Naumann led all players with 21 kills, while teammate Ethan Williams did the same in assists, with 41. Teammate Nick Oleska had a fine defensive game with 20 digs, and Cole Rineer led the floor with 5.5 blocks.

Parkland 3, Hempfield 1 25-23, 25-23, 15-25, 25-22 at Exeter Township

Assists: Parkland, Andrew Hillman 25. Hempfield, Ethan Williams 41.

Kills: Parkland, Sean Lewis 15. Hempfield, Ben Naumann 21.

Digs: Parkland, Jared Silverstein 20. Hempfield, Nick Oleska 20.

Blocks: Parkland, Lewis 3. Hempfield, Cole Rineer 5.5.