MIDDLETOWN >> Officially, junior setter Nikki Gargiule was credited with six digs in Penncrest’s thrilling 3-2 victory over Mount St. Joseph Tuesday night in the quarterfinal round of the District One Class AAA volleyball tournament.
It’s the last one, though, people will remember. It saved a season and ended a 20-year PIAA Tournament drought for the Lions.
Gargiule’s diving dig led to Diana Balta’s kill that gave the Lions a dramatic 26-24, 25-23, 21-25, 20-25, 15-13 triumph over the Magic, clinched a berth in the district semifinals and secured Penncrest’s first trip to the PIAA Tournament since 1995.
The Lions (19-4) take on second-seeded Great Valley, a 3-1 winner over seventh-seeded Downingtown West, in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader Thursday at Upper Dublin High School. The Lions and Patriots meet at 6 p.m. Top-seeded Bishop Shanahan faces fourth-seeded Perkiomen Valley in the nightcap.
All four teams qualified for the PIAA Tournament. Nikki Gargiule is a big reason the Lions are in the district final four.
“That was an amazing save,” Penncrest coach Jen Carney said.
“Oh my gosh,” Balta said, “that was unbelievable.”
As for Gargiule, who finished with 26 assists and six kills to go along with her six digs, she was at a loss for words.
“I saw the ball tip off Jordan’s hand,” said Gargiule, referring to teammate Jordan Schuller. “All I knew is that I had to get to it.”
How, she did not know.
“I’m kind of in shock,” she said.
The same could be said for Balta. She had no recollection of her winning kill.
“I’m just happy we won,” Balta said.
The Lions won because they received contributions from everyone. Balta had 21 kills, 16 assists and 12 digs. Senior
Emily Hopkins contributed 10 kills and 15 digs. Vy-Linh Gale had seven kills and seven blocks. Gianna Gargiule, Nikki’s older sister, had 35 digs. Taylor Sharkey pounded six kills and Schuller added five kills.
“This is my best group since I started coaching,” Carney said. “Most of them are seniors so they’ve been together for a few years. They really get along and play so well together.”
Penncrest needed Garguile’s saving dig and Balta’s winning kill to set up a meeting with second-seeded Great Valley Thursday night at Upper Dublin because the Lions failed to put the 14th-seeded Magic (15-8) in the third set when they had a chance.
Trailing, 21-18, Mount coach George Trabosh called a timeout to settle down his team. The Penncrest student section used the stoppage to break into the “I believe that we will win chant,” and several of the players joined in.
The Magic reeled off seven straight points to stay alive and dominated the fourth set to make a winner-take-all fifth set a necessity.
“We just kind of lost our focus,” Balta said.
The Mount did not. With senior captain Kate Strosser leading the way, the Magic fought back to tie the match.
“We had that gave and let it get away,” Carney said. “Kudos to them, they kept playing hard. They’re a great team.”
“We’ve been like that all year, riding waves,” Trabosh said. “The things that hurt us in the beginning of the year, missing serves and things like that, hurt us there.”
Penncrest made mistakes in the fifth set, too, which how the Magic were able to climb out of a 12-9 hole to get within a point of tying the match, before Nikki Gargiule came to the rescue to keep Penncrest’s season going.
“This is unbelievable,” Carney said. “One of our goals was to go as far as we could in the district tournament, and every one of the girls really rose to the occasion.”
In the Class A semifinals:
Sacred Heart 3, Faith Christian 0 >> The defending district champion Lions are back in the final again on the strength of a 25-13, 25-9, 25-15 victory in the semifinals.
Sacred Heart takes on second-seeded Christopher Dock in the championship Thursday night at Harriton High School. Game time is 6 p.m. Dock defeated Calvary Baptist, 3-0.
Rachel Bunado set the tone with three aces to end the first set. Kerri Corcoran paced the attack with 14 kills. Ally Schell also had 14 kills to go along with 20 digs. Lauren Kilroy contributed 17 digs and two aces.
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