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Strong effort by Patterson, Garnet Valley still can’t stop North Allegheny in PIAA semifinal

STATE COLLEGE >> Erin Patterson said it with an exhausted grin Tuesday evening, though her play made her verbalizing a mere formality.

Patterson didn’t want Garnet Valley’s volleyball ride to end, she confirmed in words and in deed at State College High School. It was only after four match points saved that the resolve was finally broken by unbeaten North Allegheny.

Patterson buried 22 kills for the Jaguars, who couldn’t seal a two-set lead in a 3-2 setback to the Tigers in the PIAA Class 4A semifinals.

The Jags gritted out the first two sets, 27-25 and 25-23, before North Allegheny surged, 25-19, 25-16 and 20-18.The fifth was a classic, North Allegheny claiming a 13-9 lead and four times putting the Jaguars to the sword. But the Jags rallied and even had a pair of match points before North Allegheny finally put matters to rest.

In the process, it banished the defending state champion Jags (19-6), ending a streak of 10 straight wins for Garnet Valley in elimination contests dating to last season.

“I really did not want this to end,” Patterson said. “I mean, senior year, it would’ve been great to have two medals around my neck, but we fought hard.”

The final point was fittingly put away by the player who turned the tide for North Allegheny (23-0): Kayla Dinkins. The Tulane signee was held in check for the first two sets. But the 6-foot middle block adjusted with fearsome effect in the third. She finished with 16 kills to augment six blocks, the final point a rejection at the net that she put down to set off the celebrations.

Dinkins had eight kills and two blocks in the third set alone, keying a reversal of fortune for the Tigers. It began with an affirmation:

“Just that we’re not losing and we’re going to play our game,” Dinkins said. “We wanted to play hard and not lose.”

Once Dinkins established the threat in the middle, the options around her also flourished. Mika Logan, another Division I player bound for Eastern Kentucky, led the way with 18 kills. Dinkins’ danger drew blockers away from the likes of Anna Sprys, who provided 13 kills, including one to stave off match point at 16-15, the first of four consecutive points scored by the 5-11 junior middle with Dinkins rotated to the sideline.

Avery Tuman chipped in eight kills and freshman Paige Miller added seven, the lethal attack orchestrated by setter Abby Miller, who tallied 71 assists and nine kills.

Garnet Valley’s defensive mettle never waned, spearheading the short-lived comeback effort. Amber Goldberg (27 digs) was able to keep a Dinkins smash from crashing to the floor in one of the precious few instances of that at 11-13 in the fifth, setting up a Gwen Clark kill.

“I think we just knew what was coming and we just wanted it so bad that we found ways to get it up,” setter Rachel Cain said. “And our defense is amazing that way.”

A stellar sequence that included Emma Rokosky digging Logan and Goldberg denying Dinkins forced a North Allegheny attacking error. Then Rokosky hit her fourth ace to tie the fifth at 14.

Samantha Mann followed with a successful block, negated by a double-touch off a Erin Carmody serve to restore parity at 15. A Patterson kill was pegged back by kills by Spry, and though Patterson momentarily stemmed the tide, Dinkins beat back an attack at the net to finally seal the win.

Clark stepped up with 12 kills, and Rokosky floated in and out of the game with nine kills (four in the first set), four aces and 13 digs. The sophomore Mann held her own against Dinkins in the middle with eight kills and five blocks. But Patterson stood apart as the steadiest attacking presence.

“She was amazing. I can always count on her,” Cain said of Patterson. “She disrupts every play. They think they have all this momentum and she comes through with an amazing kill and they don’t know what to do.”

Patterson had four kills in each of the first two sets, landing the Tigers into a rare hole. North Allegheny eked out a 3-2 win over Upper St. Clair in their third match of the season; in the 19 matches between then and Tuesday, they dropped just two total sets.

But the Tigers rallied. And when Garnet Valley made it obvious in the fifth that it wouldn’t go quietly, North Allegheny steadied the ship.

“We just realized that we had to play calm and not get too hyped up in the moment,” Dinkins said. “We had to keep pushing through and not play to their level but play on our side.”

The fifth-set battle epitomizes Garnet Valley’s last two postseasons, even if it didn’t end the same way as 2016’s championship jaunt. Both involved five-setters squeaked out, long bus rides on the Western frontier of PA and the fifth-seed survival of District 1 playbacks.

That toughness for players like Patterson, one of just three holdovers from a 2016 squad that graduated nine decorated seniors, is perhaps why the tears were few and far between Tuesday. And it’s also why North Allegheny’s trip to its first state final wasn’t easy, even when the Tigers seemed to have everything going for them.

“We didn’t give up,” Cain said. “We don’t give up no matter what. If we started off stronger (in the fifth set), it definitely would’ve gone our way.”

“I’m just happy with how we finished it out,” said Patterson, who will continue her career at Kutztown. “I had a lot of fun.”

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