DOYLESTOWN >> After the first two sets it didn’t look like Thursday’s District 1-AAA boys volleyball quarterfinal matchup between No. 6 Pennridge and No. 3 Central Bucks West would be much of a contest, nevertheless an all-time classic, but that’s exactly how it turned out.
As the two teams began their match, it was clear that Pennridge was the more focused team in all phases, from passing the ball to net play, and it showed on the scoreboard. The Rams shot out to a 2-0 lead (25-18, 25-14) and looked as though they would run away with the sweep without much of a fight from the Bucks.
However, something seemed to click for CB West in the third. They battled back to take the next two sets (28-26, 25-20) and swing the momentum in their favor, putting their opponents on their heels.
The fifth and final set was as close as the rest of the afternoon with CB West holding match point at 14-13. Then, a serve from the Bucks sailed into the net and Pennridge got two straight kills from their star outside hitter Ben Chinnici, sealing the deal for the Rams as they took the final set 16-14 and won the match 3-2.
“We knew West was a good team and that we couldn’t take a team like them for granted no matter what the score,” said Pennridge head coach Dave Childs. “You have to expect them to fight back in that game and they did. I don’t know if we saw 5 sets coming, but you know you have to execute against them no matter what or they’re going to beat you and they almost did just that today.”
Chinnici was the go-to option for the Ram’s all afternoon, as he has been since returning from a broken hand earlier in the year.
He finished with a match-high 27 kills and added three aces and eight blocks for good measure, as the Ball State commit impacted nearly every phase of the game to help his team pull off the hard-fought win.
None of his kills were bigger than the final two, which accounted for the 15th and 16th points of the final set and sealed the deal for the Rams.
With the season on the line and their backs against the wall there was little doubt who would get the call, but he embraced the moment and came through when his team needed him the most.
“I’m confident that I’m going to be able to do something to put the other team off balance in a situation like that,” said Chinnici of the final two points of the match. “I definitely want the ball there but at the same time I don’t want the setter to ever force something because I know any of the other four hitters could put a ball away just as easily.”
CB West had fantastic net play of their own to counter some of what Chinnici and the rest of Pennridge’s hitters were trying to do.
Daniel Klapper finished with 20 kills for the Bucks and while he started a little slow, as did the rest of the team, he was a huge part of the Buck’s eventual comeback bid that ended up falling just short.
“We just knew that this might be the last time we’d ever all play together so we went out there and fought for each other,” said Klapper. “This team (CB West) is really resilient and we weren’t going to go down easy just because we fell behind.”
Klapper and Ryan Alu, who plays somewhat out of his natural position with the Bucks, played fantastic. Lots of teams would have rolled over with that seemingly insurmountable task ahead of them, but they fought even harder which is a testament to their leadership.
“They’re not a team that just goes away. They come out and earn everything they get and never take things for granted,” said CB West head coach Todd Miller. “Some kids nowadays expect things to be given to them but with these guys, they earn it. Ryan Alu and Danny Klapper and even Cole Kaminsky coming off the bench set a great example for the rest of them and the rest of the team buys into it.”
Unfortunately for West, they fell just short on this day, but they can leave knowing they put everything into this one and came up just two points short of advancing.
For Pennridge, this will be the ninth straight season they have advanced to the district semifinals, a truly impressive run.
However, after falling in the PIAA semifinals last year, they won’t be satisfied with just making a run through districts.
“Our goal is to make the best state playoff run we can and it starts here in districts,” said Chinnici. “We lost to Hempfield in 5 (sets) last year and we know we need to polish our game here so if we get to states we’re rolling as a team.”
Pennridge 3, Central Bucks West 2
Pennridge 25 25 26 20 16 — 3
Central Bucks West 18 14 28 25 14 — 2