Pennridge clinches PIAA berth, tops Downingtown West in District 1-AAA quarters

EAST ROCKHILL — With adrenaline carrying almost every swing long, the Pennridge girls volleyball team needed to regain its composure if the Rams were going to keep their perfect record intact and advance in the District 1-AAA Tournament.

One deep breath followed by a significant service run put Downingtown West on its heels. The Whippets coughed up a lead in the opening game and the Rams rallied to a 3-1 (25-22, 18-25, 25-20, 25-15) quarterfinal win.

The win secures a spot in states and the final four of the district tourney, where they play No. 5 Bishop Shanahan, a 3-1 winner over No. 4 Strath Haven, 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Abington.

Confidence crept into the eighth seed’s side as it went point-for-point with the top-seeded Rams (17-0) right away. Suddenly, a 11-3 run had the Rams sweating and slipping. However, once they found a way to draw even at 19, the Chest-Mont group never regained its focus, falling victim to a 15-7 run and a 25-22 Rams victory in the opening game.

“We knew West was a good team and we knew we had to work for it,’ Rams coach Zech States said. “That’s what they did tonight.’

If anything the comeback confirmed the Rams were able to rally if necessary, not that they were looking to fall behind. But they had to again in Game Two.

The Whippets (18-3) came out strong, carried a 4-0 lead before they could blink. While the Rams did reel off eight points in a row and lead 11-9, the Whippets answered with a 16-7 run to even the quarterfinal contest with a 25-18 win.

“Game two slipped on us,’ States said. “We have to work on our slow starts. I do have the confidence they have it in them to still win this game.’

The Rams had to know the sweeps were most likely over this deep into the season. A second game loss did not mean it was time for several adjustments.

They kept the same rotation that got them to this point and just hoped they had enough on Tuesday to continue on.

Separation was hard to come by, the teams knotted up midway through the third game. A three-point lead became a big deal. It came in the form of senior middle hitter Lauren Drugotch’s game-high 15 kills, putting the Rams up 17-14, helping them hold on for a crucial 25-22 game.

“We cannot let one game slip by and give up,’ Drugotch said. “It’s all about determination. We rely on each to do great things and comeback.’

Sensational sophomore Steph Judkins took matters into her own hands and closed out the Whippets. She finished the game with 12 kills and four aces.

Mistakes happen and the Whippets caused some trying times, too. But when the Rams needed it the most, they served up 17 aces and their defense literally dug deep.

“Our biggest thing is serving aggressive and playing defense,’ States said. “We have the hitters to put the ball away, it’s the back-row defense, that at times was sluggish. But overall, all around, we had good defense.’

The Rams still have a chance to win their first district title since 1975 and States was uncertain the last time, or if the program ever reached the state tourney. The lights will only beam brighter on neutral courts but after 17 games the Rams know what they need to do.

“I am beyond excited right now,’ Drugotch said. “Every team dreams of going to states, or just the playoffs. To be here with these amazing teammates has been incredible. We need to keep pushing in practice. Keep doing what we are doing.’

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