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La Salle edged in 5 by Pennsbury in PIAA-3A first round

BENSALEM >> The first-ever PIAA tournament victory for the La Salle boys volleyball team stayed tantalizingly out of reach Tuesday night.

In a back-and-forth Class 3A first-round match with Pennsbury, the Explorers rallied from a four-point deficit in the deciding fifth set to earn a match point at 15-14. But La Salle couldn’t close the door on the Falcons, who regrouped and came away with a 3-2 (19-25, 25-20, 21-25, 26-24, 18-16) victory at Bensalem High School.

“They just had a few attacks on the offense that we didn’t have a real response for,” Explorers senior Chris Metzler said. “We fought back into it which was great. We got ourselves right back in it, I think we were up by a point, I ‘m pretty sure. But, I don’t know, it’s volleyball, it comes and goes.”

La Salle, the District 12 champ, has made the state tournament each of the past six seasons but each time its run has stopped in the opening round – the last two years ending in five-set defeats to District 1’s third place side.

 “Two years in a row five-set matches,” Explorers coach Jason Eisele said. “But it’s fun. To be back twice and give the Suburban One a run, being from District 12 and the caliber of play up here is so much higher.”

Pennsbury advances to the state quarterfinals for the second time in three years and faces the winner of District 3 champ Central York and District 11 runner-up Parkland Saturday.

Up two sets to one on the Falcons, the Explorers led 23-22 in the fourth set but Pennsbury took fourth of the final five points to win 26-14 and force a winner-take-all fifth.

A three-point run gave the Falcons the 8-5 lead with Pennsbury pushing the margin to 12-8 on Nathan Sadley’s kill. But the Explorers answered with four straight points to pull even at 12, survived match point at 14-13 then earned their own match point at 15-14 when a Falcons shot went wide.

“That’s the first time I called a second time out in a set this entire season,” Eisele said. “I wanted to make sure the guys knew I’m not going to give up on you, you can’t end your season this way. I said it’s about the character of the program at this point. And they responded.”

A Sebastian Kloda kill had Pennsbury even at 15 with a Jacob Loerch kill off a La Salle dig over the net putting the Falcons on match point 16-15.

La Salle stayed alive when Luke Berish shot was deflected out of bounds, but another Loerch kill made it 17-16 Pennsbury. After a short rally on the next point, the Explorers could not get the ball over the net.

“Despite this loss, looking good for the future of our program,” Metzler said. “The young guys we got, I know they’ll be back here, hopefully next year.”

Tied 6-6 in the third set, La Salle ran off four straight points to take a 10-6 lead and never trailed the rest of the set. Pennsbury pulled to within one at 11-10 but the Explorers responded with five of the next six points to go up 16-11. From there, the Falcons could only cut the margin down to three — the last time at 24-21 before a Patrick Mraz kill gave La Salle a 2-1 advantage in the match.

The Explorers held a 13-9 lead in the fourth before Pennsbury began to work back, the Falcons knotting things 14-14 on a Matt Caissie ace. The teams proceeded to trade one-point leads — the Explorers’ final edge coming at 23-22 before the Falcons won the next two for match point at 24-23.

A Pennsbury serve into the net made it 24-all but the Falcons took the next two — Loerch tapping down a kill to tie the match 2-2.

The Falcons jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set but after La Salle went up 6-5 the Explorers never lost the advantage. The four-time defending PCL champs led by as much as eight at 24-16 before winning the set 25-19.

Pennsbury, however, bounced back in the second set, never losing the lead after going ahead 4-3. Down 22-15, the Explorers put together a four-point run to get within 22-19. But three was as close as La Salle could get and the Falcons claimed the second set with a 25-20 win.

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