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Spring-Ford beats Upper Merion in 4, advances to PAC final

UPPER MERION >> The Spring-Ford girls volleyball team beat Upper Merion in four sets, 16-25, 25-15, 25-23, 25-22, Tuesday night in the Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four at Upper Merion Area High School.

The No. 3 seeded Rams face No. 1 seed Pope John Paul II in the PAC championship game at Upper Merion Thursday night.

The first two games were very similar between Upper Merion and Spring-Ford. The teams were tight for the first ten-or-so points, then one side pulled away for a comfortable win.

It was the Vikings who won the first game. They turned a 10-8 game into a 19-11 advantage and closed it out, 25-16, on a Katelyn O’Brien ace.

In the second game, the teams were tied at 11. Spring-Ford rattled off seven straight points and cruised to a 25-15 win when an Upper Merion serve went into the net.

The third game was when it got interesting. Neither side had a lead larger than three until Spring-Ford pulled ahead, 23-18, late in the game. Upper Merion scored five of the next six points to draw within one, 24-23, but Spring-Ford closed it out to take a 2-1 lead in the match.

“It was big,” Spring-Ford coach Josh McNulty said of winning the third set. “I told the kids that even though we beat them by 10 in the second it wasn’t going to be easy to come in and beat them in the third. We had the same gameplan. We wanted to keep running our offense the way we just ran it and i thought we did it pretty well. I said if we can get this second win, then all the pressure is on them.”

The fourth game started close but quickly appeared to be headed towards a blowout. The Rams broke an 11-11 tie with a 10-2 run to take a commanding 21-13 lead and force an Upper Merion timeout.

The Vikings responded with eight of the next nine points to cut their deficit to one, 22-21.

“I just told them we needed to calm down a little bit,” McNulty said of his message to his team when the lead got away. “It’s so easy to get ahead of yourself and say we’re up eight points, we have 21, all we have to do is side out a couple times and we’re good. Then all of a sudden they out-score us 8-1 or something like that. I told them we need to stay focused and go out there and do what we need to do to win.”

With the score 24-22, Upper Merion returned a serve into the net and Spring-Ford stormed the court to celebrate its win and its spot in the league championship game.

“When you make comebacks, you have to finish them,” Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten said of both the third and fourth sets. “You make a comeback like that when we’re buried, then we weren’t buried. You just have to somehow find a way. Someone has to step up. That’s the part that’s the most difficult for us — to find someone to lift the whole team up.”

Olivia Olsen tallied a team-high 11 kills for Spring-Ford and Allie Angelucci had nine kills. Paide Dealba tallied 21 assists and Jenna Plitnick had a team-high six aces.

Upper Merion will start preparing for the District 1 Class AAAA playoffs next week where it expects to be the No. 10 seed.

“I think we’re 10, so we’ll play whoever is 23,” Funsten said. “There are some really good teams out there.”

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