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Pennridge falls to Pennsbury in District 1-3A third place match

NORTHAMPTON >> The Pennridge boys volleyball team may have been the 12th and final seed in the District 1-3A playoff field, but that number did little to alleviate the Rams’ frustration of just missing out on a spot in states.

“Forget what seed you are, we’re in the final four, it’s one game, one match at a time,” Pennridge coach Dave Childs said. “We had as good of an opportunity as anyone. So it’s just as disappointing as if we were the one seed, honestly.”

In a tight contest with Pennsbury in the district third-place match, the Rams claimed the opening set but the No. 2 Falcons found ways to close out the next three and claimed a state berth with a 3-1 (25-26, 25-22, 25-22, 26-24) win Thursday night at Council Rock South.

“We weren’t there mentally as if we were last week which we kind of dominated the teams we were playing against,” Rams senior outside hitter Ethan Lionetti said. “It was different, but I think with our serving chances we came out and showed that we’re the Pennridge team that people know us as.”

The Rams and Falcons were meeting for the fourth consecutive postseason with Pennsbury earning back-to-back district wins in the rivalry after sweeping Pennridge in the 2018’s third-place match. The Falcons advance to face District 12 champ La Salle in the PIAA first round Tuesday.

“They’re a very disciplined team and I think that helps them in crunch time,” said Childs of Pennsbury. “I think you saw that in crunch time, they were really disciplined and made the right play every time.”

Last year’s district loss to Pennsbury ended Pennridge’s run of consecutive PIAA appearances at nine. And despite a tough end to the regular season, the Rams gave themselves two shots this week at returning to states after upsetting No. 5 Central Bucks West and No. 4 Upper Dublin to advance to the semifinals.

“By the end of the season we lost seven of our last eight games, we were kind of going through the motions, just like all right, our season’s going to be over after this last year,” Lionetti said. “And it turns out we’re the 12 seed and then we’re like all right we make it in and fight our tails off and just show everyone what we are made of as a quote-unquote 12 seed, I guess.”

Thursday, Pennridge had a chance to forced a deciding fifth set by rallying to take a late lead in the fourth.

The Falcons went ahead 6-5 early in the fourth and kept the advantage until a three-point run gave the Rams the 20-18 edge. Pennridge was still up two at 23-21 before a Pennsbury three-point burst earn the SOL National champs match point at 24-23. A Chris McKinney kill pulled the Rams even at 24 but the Falcons took the next two, sealing the four-set victory.

“It was just one or two bad, physical mistakes,” Lionetti said. “We know what to do it’s that humans aren’t perfect. That might be the difference of going to a state playoffs or not.”

Neither side led by more than three points in the first set with things getting tighter down the stretch. After Pennsbury tied the Rams 21-21, the Falcons knotted the score three more times, but could not take lead. Even 24-24, Pennridge got match point after a long Falcon serve then claimed a 26-24 win on the next point.

“I think we passed a little bit better in the first set and we were able to run a little bit more, which made a little bit of difference offensively for us,” Childs said. “And we got a little out of whack, we were a little inconsistent I think from then on. A little inconsistent and that hurt us.”

The Rams had a 14-10 lead in the second set before Pennsbury put together a 9-3 run to go ahead 19-17. Pennridge won the next two points to tie the set at 19 but the Falcons answered by collecting five of the next seven for match point at 24-21. The Rams held off once, but Pennsbury leveled the match on the next point to take the set 25-22.

“Pennsbury was able to side out very well,” Lionetti said. “And we were both going on runs but sometimes when we wouldn’t go on a run they’d side out right away and go on a run which set up back right away.”

In the third set, the Falcons took the lead for good at 14-13 and pushed the margin to four at 17-13. The Rams could only get within two – the last time at 24-22 – before Pennsbury to go up 2-1 in the match with a 25-22 win.

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