EAST ROCKHILL >> After losing the third set in its District 1-AAA quarterfinal match, but still leading two sets to one in the match, the Pennridge boys volleyball team needed its leaders to step up.
The third-seeded Rams were plenty capable of that.
Pennridge got contributions from a variety of players and outlasted a feisty No. 6 William Tennent team in four sets, 25-12, 27-25, 23-25, and 25-16, to move on to the District 1-AAA semifinals.
“I’m just happy to be moving on to the final four,” Pennridge coach Dave Childs said. “It’s a great accomplishment, especially when you have to play a team like William Tennent to get there.”
Ben Chinnici was a beast for Pennridge all night. The junior provided a big kill or ace whenever the Rams needed it.
“(Ben) is always there when we need him,” Pennridge Childs said. “He started out kind of slow tonight, I thought, and then picked it up at the end.”
Chinnici had 22 kills and three aces in the match.
Seniors Jesse Smith and Aaron Nelson also proved to be catalysts on offense. Smith had 41 assists on the night, while Nelson contributed 9 kills.
Chinnici’s fellow-classman Josiah Friesen also played big for the Rams (16-3). The right-side hitter had nine kills in the match.
“We had a couple of other guys step up huge for us tonight,” Childs said. “I thought Josiah was the difference honestly.”
After a back-and-forth start to the first set that saw the score tied at 10, Pennridge flipped a switch that Tennent just could not turn off. The Rams finished the opening set on a 15-2 run, behind a pair of 6-0 runs broken up by just a single Panther point.
Chinnici turned out to be the server for one of those Pennridge runs, and also tallied a few of his 10 back-row kills in the crucial moments of the first set.
“I like to take control as best I can if we need it, Chinnici said. “A lot of times we don’t. We have a lot of hitters that can show up and do what they need to do. But you can say I’m a little greedy that way in I want to do what we need to do and get that point.”
Set two was more competitive, evidenced by the fact the set winner needed more than 25 points. Tennent had chances, as they had serve with the match tied at 23, 24, and 25. The Panthers also had an 18-16 lead, but a 6-2 run for Pennridge out of a timeout erased that.
The boys with serving duties may have been feeling the pressure, as the set got tighter – the set saw four consecutive service errors before Pennridge was able to get a point on offense and end the set at 27-25.
Tennent, which finishes its season with an 11-5 record, showed the skill that got it to the district quarters in winning set three. The Panthers, down 20-18 in the set and 2-0 in the match, ripped off four straight points and seven of the next 10.
Pennridge had it to 24-23 with Chinnici serving, but a quick side out clinched the set for Tennent.
“I think there might have been a little mental drop in the second and third game,” Chinnici said. “Since I think we haven’t played in a while we hadn’t pushed a whole three games out yet…we kind of leveled off and let up a bit.”
This was Pennridge’s first match in two weeks, as the Rams had a bye in the first round of the district playoffs.
The fourth set started dicey for Pennridge as well. The Rams found themselves down 7-6 in the set with Tennent looking to again seize momentum and mount a comeback. A 4-0 run for Pennridge from there gave them a lead that wouldn’t be relinquished.
Up next for the Rams is Pennsbury — which beat No. 10 Avon Grove 3-0 Thursday — in the semis 6 p.m. Tuesday at William Tennent. The Falcons are the second seed in District 1, despite the fact third-seeded Pennridge is the only team in the district ranked in the state.
“I think the numbers mean basically nothing. We know where we’re at,” Chinnici said. “Being the third seed is just based on records. If we do what we need to do and play how we need to on our side of the game then the record won’t matter.”