On to the finals

By on May 13, 2015

 Eagles fly past Comets in thrilling semifinal win

Cocalico’s Garrett Strunk (right) dinks a shot over the Lancaster Mennonite blockers during last Thursday’s Section Two title match won by the Eagles. (Photo by Denise Mitchell)

Cocalico’s Garrett Strunk (right) dinks a shot over the Lancaster Mennonite blockers during last Thursday’s Section Two title match won by the Eagles. (Photo by Denise Mitchell)

If at first you don’t succeed, as the New Yorkers would say….fuh-get-about-it.

That’s what the Cocalico boy’s volleyball team did Monday night at Garden Spot High School on their way to a thrilling five-game victory over Penn Manor in the Lancaster-Lebanon League semifinals.

With the win, the Eagles head to the finals for the first time since 2000 and will face Section One Champ Hempfield Wednesday (7 p.m.) at Manheim Township High School.

The Comets dominated Cocalico 25-7 in the first game, setting up a most improbable comeback. The Eagles came out swinging in the second as senior Mitch Stauffer delivered three consecutive blocks and a 3-0 lead as the Cocalico faithful got back into the match. But, Penn Manor roared to seven-straight points behind the service gems of sophomore Daniel Fry (two aces) and the comeback was on hold.

Down 12-5, Cocalico Coach Dave Weaver called a time out, as it turned out the turning point of the match. The Eagles ran off four straight, finally re-taking the lead at 17-16 which prompted the Comets to slow things down with a time out of their own. Stauffer continued to shine with four kills, one an athletic left-handed follow, after his first swing had been blocked. Game two evened the match at 25-19.

“We said in the huddle that we’re not talking about that game,” declared Stauffer, referring to Game One, after the match. “We’ve talked about having a short memory all year, and we certainly needed it for that (first) one.”

Coach Weaver concurred, telling the media contingent what he told the boys before set two.

“I told them to forget the first one and play our game,” he said.

The third game was a marathon, consisting of 14 ties and eight-lead changes as both teams found themselves down a game point before Cocalico prevailed 28-26 to take a two games to one lead.

The defending league champions responded in the fourth by running out to a 12-6 lead after a 3-3 start. An Eagle time out seemed to right the ship as Cocalico crept within three points on four occasions as the two clubs traded points for half the match before Penn Manor finally closed it out by a 25-18 margin, setting up the fifth and deciding game.

One could project that the Comets’ playoff experience (two titles in the last three years) and the Eagles’ lack of the same would place the jitters squarely on the Cocalico side of the court, but that was not the case.

A Penn Manor error and a Stauffer block (eight for the match) put the Eagles on top 2-0, but the Comets quickly evened the score on a dink and a marathon point that featured several impressive saves by both squads.

That is when Cocalico made the run of the night. Behind the serves of junior Nick Baxter and the net play of Stauffer (three blocks, two kills) the Eagles moved the scoreboard eight times in-a-row for a 10-2 advantage.

Manor made things interesting, pulling within 11-8, but following a time out, Cocalico ran off four of the last five points to close out the match 15-9.

So, what was the conversation like before the decisive fifth game?

“We can’t be too pumped up, but keep the energy high,” added Stauffer. “The key was the early lead, because this was the first time we had played a fifth set all year.”

Weaver’s cautious advice, though simple, was effective.

“I just told them to play one point at a time and keep the pressure on,” he said.

Offensive leaders for Cocalico were Stauffer with 18 kills, Garrett Strunk with 25 assists while Stauffer, Baxter and Deep Bhavani each contributed a single service ace. On the defensive side, in addition to Stauffer’s eight blocks, Bhavani led the way with 15 digs while John Waskowicz saved 14.

After the L-L title match, the Eagles (fourth seed) will start District Three Tournament play next Monday against Brandywine Heights (fifth seed) at a site and time to be determined.

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