CONCORD >> Senior Sydney Portale only needed one word to describe Garnet Valley’s stunning 3-0 loss to Council Rock North in the District 1 Class 4A girls volleyball semifinals Tuesday night.
It all came down to execution.
The Indians executed and the Jaguars did not. It was as simple as that.
“At this point of the season, we can’t take any days off,” Portale said. “They played a great game, but it came down to us. We just didn’t execute.”
North (22-2) had a lot to do with that. The sixth-seeded Indians took a see-saw battle in the opening set, 26-24, reeled off 12 straight points to win the second set, 25-15, and scored nine of the last 10 points to complete the sweep with a 25-18 victory in the third set to extend their winning streak to 16 games and earn their first trip to the PIAA Tournament in program history.
“This is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had,” senior Maddy Moore said of making the state tournament. “I got choked up at the end of the game. I stood there for a second and thought, ‘We’re doing this. It’s great.”
North’s reward is a semifinal date Thursday night at second-seeded Plymouth Whitemarsh, which rallied from a 2-1 deficit for a 3-2 triumph over seventh seeded Upper Merion.
“That’s fine,” Moore said. “We’re excited.”
North earned its spot in the semis. The Indians dug out nearly every ball on defense and took advantage of nearly every offensive opportunity.
“They played great,” Garnet Valley coach Mark Clark said. “They didn’t let anything hit the floor. They played awesome ball. We could not get in sync tonight. That was the problem. We could not get into a rhythm and we could not bounce back when we were down.”
The third-seeded Jaguars (18-3) will have to bounce back quickly or their season will be over. The loss dropped Garnet Valley into the fifth-place playback round. Only the top five teams advance to the PIAA Tournament. The Jaguars host Upper Merion, a team they beat 3-0 earlier in the season, Thursday night. The winner of that game takes on the winner of the game between Avon Grove and Hatboro-Horsham for the last spot from District 1 in the PIAA Tournament.
“Coach Clark told us we have until midnight to feel sorry about his game,” Portale said. “After that, all of our focus has to be on Thursday.”
North certainly was dialed in, especially on defense. The Indians, with Moore and outside hitter Morgan Colito leading the way, recorded 39 defensive digs in the three sets. Moore and Colito finished with 11 each.
“We start every single point saying, ‘No ball hits the floor,” Moore said. “That’s our philosophy and we showed that tonight. We knew coming in that defense was going to be key because they have some great hitters, especially (Portale). She’s really tough and we wanted to keep the ball alive and get it to our setters.”
Those setters, Johanna Batterton and Sarah Caola, turned the defensive digs into opportunities on the offensive end. Batterton and Caola spread the ball around to keep Garnet Valley’s defense on its heels. Colito led the attack with seven kills. Kalein Mealey added six kills, followed by Dana Bandurick with five Birdie Ligos with four.
Batterton finished with 16 kills and Caola had 10 helpers.
The killer, though, was the 12-point run in the second set and Batterton was in the middle of that tide-changing outburst. She was on the service line for the last 10 points as the Indians turned a 5-3 deficit into a 15-5 lead.
Garnet Valley’s student body did its best to rattle Batterton to no avail.
“We knew coming into this game that we were on someone else’s home turn and there would be a lot more people in the stands cheering for them than us,” Batterton said. “And so in practice the last week we’ve been having players screaming at us as we were serving to prepare us for this kind of atmosphere and so by the time I was back there I was tuned out.”
Nicole Loan (11 kills, two blocks), Portale (nine kills, two aces, one block), Erin Patterson (seven kills), Sekai Kaminski (seven kills), Gabby Davis (32 assists), Lizzie Herestofa (15 digs), Amber Goldberg (eight digs) and Meagan Scott (seven digs) did their best to keep Garnet Valley in it. The Jaguars had a 16-15 lead on a kill by Julianne Hurley and tied the match, 18-18, when Patterson put home a perfect pass from Davis.
But there would be no comeback. North rattled off the final seven points to snap Garnet Valley’s six-game winning streak.
“It was one of those nights,” Clark said. “We picked a bad night to have a bad game.”