BELLEVILLE — Starting the season with a few new players, the Belleville East were a bit out of sync in the first two games on Monday against rival Althoff. But East junior John Mathews made sure it wasn't three.
One of the holdovers from a Lancers team which reached the sectional title match a year ago, Mathews highlighted an eight-point scoring run with three straight kills early in the third game as East (1-0) went on for a 25-19, 22-25, 25-13 win in a nonconference volleyball match that was the season opener for both squads.
Pushed to a third game after Althoff rallied for a dramatic win in game two, East trailed 4-2 in the opening stages of the final game following a kill by the Crusaders Brice Miller.
Mathews, who finished the night with a team-high 15 kills, then fired home a kill which put teammate Adam Warren on the service line.
A kill by junior Josiah Bergt tied the game at 4 and following a missed Crusaders kill gave East the lead, Mathews took over with three straight powerful winners to put East up 8-4.
"John took over," Lancers coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. "He's been around the game for a long time. He's played club (volleyball) in the offseason and he was a big contributor for us last season.
"I think the kids really look to him both on and off the court. I was happy with the way he stepped up."
Bergt followed Mathews' run with a block and the 5-foot-11 Warren fired consecutive service winners to complete the scoring spurt and give the Lancers an 11-4 lead.
Althoff (0-1) would get no closer then five points the rest of the way.
The Crusaders, who like East, feature several new players in the lineup, were in danger of being swept in two games by their city rivals after dropping the first game 25-19. The Lancers, getting a four-point service run from senior Keelan Vaughn and three point runs from Warren and Deion Buckels, steadily pulled away in game one.
The Lancers then built a 14-6 lead in game two before Althoff rallied.
A four-point service run by the Crusaders Nick Blum cut the lead to 14-10, but Althoff still trailed 19-15 when Max Orlet stepped up and served seven straight points to put Althoff up 22-15.
Miller had two kills and Orlet had a clean ace to key the run which also featured three hitting errors by East.
"I think everybody knows that Brice (Miller) is our go-to guy. We're not hiding that from anyone. And he stepped up tonight," Althoff coach Tim Gagen said. "I thought we were a little tight early. We're playing a lot of young kids and we found out what we need to work on.
"But I was very pleased at the comeback. We showed a lot of heart. I thought we played well in game two and well in game three. We just had a couple of rotations which hurt us.''
A kill by Miller later in game two gave Althoff a game point which the crusaders finally took when a Mathews serve sailed wide.
East finished with eight service errors for the match.
"I could see it happening in game two. We had a big lead and then we relaxed,'' Gaubatz said. "We can't play relaxed. We have to play with a sense of urgency and we just lost it there.
"But in the first two games I just felt like we were out of sync. We just weren't sharp. The third game we picked it up and I was happy to see that.
Building on its momentum from game two, Althoff took a 4-2 lead on a three-point service run by Derek Newgent.
But East took control on Warren's eight-point run.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com