While the District One playoff seeding might have been dramatically different for Suburban One American League rivals Pennridge and Central Bucks West, players from both teams knew their postseason opener could go either way.
During the regular season, the Rams toppled the Bucks in five sets on April 4 while CB West took the rematch in five on the last day of the month.
“We knew Pennridge was going to be a huge fight – just because they always play their best against us,” said Bucks setter Adam Klapper. “We knew coming in it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.”
It took the 12th-seeded Rams just four sets to get past No. 5 CB West (12-6) this time around, dropping the first game, 22-25, then rolling on to three straight wins, 25-14, 25-22, 25-19, May 14 on the Bucks’ home court.
Pennridge (7-10) advances to the face No. 4 Upper Dublin (13-3) May 16 on the Cardinals’ home court.
West had no answer for Rams’ outside hitters Chris McKinney (14 kills, five blocks) and Ethan Lionetti (eight kills, five blocks).
“We attacked the outside pretty well with (No.) 17 (McKinney) and 11 (Lionetti),” said longtime Pennridge coach Dave Childs. “They both played really well offensively, hitting on that right side for us.”
Rams middle hitter Ryan Benscoter was also a beast, coming through with 12 kills, nine digs and three blocks.
“He brings a lot of energy to the team,” explained McKinney. “It’s really good energy; he’s always excited, always ready to hit a ball hard.“He brings all of us up and we really try hard to match the energy that he has.”
Defensively, Pennridge senior Danny Rutter held up the back line with his service and keeping balls alive.
“Danny has been a stud all year for us,” stated Childs. “He’s been awesome since we moved him into the libero spot.
“He’s playing at a really high level for us.
“Tonight, he had help.”
Senior middle hitters Austin Jalosinski and Matt McCreary also came through for the Rams at the front line with Jalosinski chipping in with seven kills and two blocks and McCreary adding six kills and four blocks.
Pennridge went 6-8 in the SOL American League this season, dropping down a notch or two in competition level from 2017 when the Rams captured a District One championship.
None of that matters in the postseason, says McKinney.
“I think we really have found our groove now,” said McKinney. “We found a lineup that really works and now that we’re in the playoffs, we’re just focusing on improving.
With the sides deadlocked at 6-all in the first set, the Bucks posted a 6-2 run to gain some separation. CB West’s scoring string was highlighted by a block by senior Austin Cervasio and kills by outside hitter Cole Nagle and Ethan Cox.
Pennridge surrendered a dozen points on hitting errors in the first set, however. Once the Rams cleaned up their mistakes, they regained control.
“Once a set’s over, it’s a new game; it’s zero-zero,” said McKinney. “The last game doesn’t affect the current game.
“That’s the motto that we all use – focus on the next game, take it point by point.”
Pennridge posted the first three points in game two and led 12-6 halfway through the set on a pair of kills by Lionetti.
Up 20-10, the Rams closed out a 25-14 triumph in game two, highlighting the second set with late-game kills by Benscoter, McKinney and Jalosinski.
“I’d say we really rode out that second set; that really helped us out and gave us a lot of confidence,” explained McKinney. “We needed that and it just carried us through to the end of the match.”
Tied at 9-all in the third set, Pennridge gained some separation with a 9-5 run, a scoring string ignited by a pair of aces by McKinney.
While Cox drew the Bucks within a point with a late-game block and a kill, McKinney closed out a 25-22 triumph in the third set with a pair of kills of his own.
Tied at 3-all in the final set, the Rams took control with a 14-10 scoring spurt, a run highlighted by a one-handed touch over the net by junior Tommy Cassel and a block by McCreary.
While West kept its hopes alive with late-game kills by seniors Nagle and Jason Miller and another by Cox, Pennridge went on to a 25-19 triumph, advancing to the next round on a kill by Benscoter.
Note: Top-seeded Central Bucks East opens tournament play against No. 8 Bensalem 7 p.m. Thursday.
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