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Boyertown rallies past Upper Merion, reaches PAC final against PJP

WEST NORRITON >> Boyertown just needed to play its game.

That was the message and the mentality for the No. 2 seeded Bears after they dropped the first two sets to No. 3 Upper Merion in the Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinals Tuesday evening at Norristown Area High School.

Boyertown played its game and played it well, rallying to a five-set win, 20-25, 17-25, 25-19, 25-0, 15-7, over the Vikings to reach the PAC title game, where it will face top-seeded Pope John Paul II Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Norristown.

“It’s always been a thing as a team not to give up,” Bears junior Emma Ludwig said. “We never give up no matter what our situation is. We’ve been in situations like this — maybe not down 2-0, but in situations where we’re down and the other team is up so many times and we work on it so often in practice being down and working our way back up. Tonight we really showed how strong our team is and how much we’ve been working together.

“‘Our game’ is a team game. When we play as a team and we’re working together and everyone is communicating with each other we always perform better. When it’s just one person doing something or half the team, it doesn’t always go as well for us. The definition of ‘our game’ would be working together as a team.”

The fourth set was the most competitive of the match. Boyertown turned an 11-7 deficit into a 19-13 lead, only surrendering points on two serves into the net. Upper Merion rallied to tie the game at 19 with Vanessa Hutchinson serving. After trading points to be tied at 20-20, the Bears won five straight to take the set, 25-20, and carry all the momentum into the fifth.

“We struggle in a couple servicing rotations,” Boyertown coach Mike Ludwig said, “but our girls are fighting through it. (Upper Merion) got us — they caught us in a little bit of one and then when we got the ball back we did a really nice job of pressing them and forcing them to give us free balls and then we executed on offense.”

Boyertown dominated the decisive final game. The No. 2 seed took a 4-0 lead that grew to 7-2 to force an Upper Merion timeout. The Vikings trimmed their deficit to three, 8-5, but then the Bears rattled off five straight to take a commanding 13-5 advantage. The PAC rivals traded points until Boyertown celebrated its first trip to the PAC finals as a 15-7 winner.

“We’ve had some tough matches,” Mike Ludwig said. “We had a five-setter with Exeter on Saturday. We had a five-setter with Unionville earlier in the year. We had a five-setter with (Upper Merion) earlier in the year. All those things have built us together as a team. You’re going to have ups and downs. They just found a way to fight through and really play together at the end.”

“When we played Exeter we didn’t know what to expect,” senior Emily Wolfe said. “We prepare for each team we play, but you can’t prepare 100%. When you play in those tough games — that’s our mental preparation. Mentally we have the best preparation there is.”

The first set was back-and-forth early on with both teams making some mistakes and Upper Merion — especially Hutchinson, Sophia Gammarino and Jill Demcher — making some impressive digs. The Vikings pulled away in the middle of the set to take a 21-15 advantage and closed it out, 25-20.

Upper Merion started the second set with a 6-0 run. After Boyertown tied the game at eight, the Vikings scored five straight points and nine of the next 11 to go ahead 17-10. The Bears rallied within four, 20-16, but Upper Merion finished with a 5-1 run, capped off by a Gammarino kill, to go ahead 2-0, 25-17.

The third game started tight in the beginning, but Wolfe served a 7-0 run that put Boyertown ahead, 20-10, and the Bears held off the Vikings, 25-19.

“I told the girls we played really, really well and won the first two games,” Upper Merion coach Tony Funsten said, “but they played better. They might have a little bit more physical talent than us and it showed. That’s what happens. A team like that can wear you down. The fact that you won the first two games is great, but you have to get the third game and we needed to get a lead. I don’t think at any time in those three games we really led. We came back in that fourth game when we got to 20-20, but there was a big point at 20-20 and they got it. We get it, you don’t know. all the pressure would’ve shifted. Then they served it out.”

Ludwig finished the game with 14 kills, 19 digs and 29 assists. Wolfe had 22 kills and 17 digs and Adrianna Derstine 20 kills and 11 digs.

PJP tops Methacton

In the second semifinal, Pope John Paul II swept Methacton, 25-13, 25-18, 25-14.

The Golden Panthers will be playing in the PAC championship game for the fourth straight season and looking for their third win.

Hanna Tulli led PJP 13 kills and added two aces. Sarah Ward had eight kills and two aces, Heather Lesinski eight kills and Julia Durand six kills. Chelsea Harvey led the team with 34 assists and added eight digs. Téa Pasquale had 14 digs and four aces.

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