O'FALLON — The Belleville East Lancers entered the semifinals of the O'Fallon Regional for high school boys volleyball with 26 matches to their credit and were arguably the second best team in the Southwestern Conference during the regular season.
But when the Lancers took the floor on Tuesday, coach Stefanie Gaubatz didn't know what to expect.
Filling in for injured setter Patrick Smith, senior Adam Warren came through with a solid effort and the firepower of the Lancers proved to be too much for Belleville West to handle as East went on for a 25-22, 25-22 win at the Milburn campus of O'Fallon High School.
West (14-15), who got strong play from Cody Hobbs and Cade Dibadj, held leads in both games. But in the end, the Lancers front-line power attack of John Mathews, Josiah Bergt and Taylor Quinley, proved to be too much to handle.
West, which trailed 21-13 late in game two, cut the lead to 23-21 following a pair of service winners by Trevor Juenger and a Lancers hitting error.
But kills by Deion Buckels and Quinley ended the Maroons season and moved East (18-7-2) into the title match with top-seed O'Fallon.
"I really didn't know what to expect. We went with two different lineups the other night against Althoff and I didn't like either one so we just kind of threw this one together,'' Gaubatz said. "I thought Adam (Warren) did a great job.
"It's tough to come in and run an offense, but these kids want to succeed and I thought we did a great job of pulling together.''
The win lifts East into the title match against O'Fallon at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the O'Fallon High School Milburn Road campus. O'Fallon (23-2-1) fought off a fired-up Althoff squad in the other semifinal.
Belleville West played well. The Maroons held a two-point lead in game one and led 11-10 in game two But in the end, the firepower of the Lancers proved to be too much.
"I thought we played well. We had leads in both games and we were able to stay with them all night. That was the game plan,'' West coach Austin Betz said. "I thought we played our best match that we played against East all year. But at same time, they played their best match against us.''
"They just have too many weapons. We concentrate on stopping (John) Mathews and Bergt and Quinley step up. They're tough to stop.''
O'Fallon 25-25, Althoff 14-16
Taking on an improved Althoff squad, the top-seeded Panthers fought off a slow start before rolling into the regional title match with the victory over the Crusaders.
Playing Althoff for a third time this season, O'Fallon led only 10-9 following a kill by the Crusaders Brice Miller in game one.
But the Panthers then took over. Getting a block, a kill and a tip winner from senior Luke Terhaar on three consecutive points, the Panthers took control and never looked back.
Getting solid play from junior John Hobbs and five kills each from Alex Belongy, John Hartkop and Nolan Melesky, the Panthers moved into the regional final.
"We were flat early and I think we were a little tight with this being the regional tournament. But we were never really in any kind of trouble in the match,'' O'Fallon coach Katelyn Hagarty said. "This was the third time we played Althoff this season and to their credit I thought they played well.
"Number 8 (Miller) was all over the court for Althoff. But I thought our hitters played well and I was very happy with the way that John (Hobbs) played.''
While Hagarty thought her team played a much improved Althoff squad, Crusaders coach Tim Gagen has no doubt O'Fallon is one of the best teams in the state.
"With Luke (Terhaar) and the number of hitters they (O'Fallon) have, I think we played a team that could do very well at the state tournament. I know they've got to play great teams to get there, but they're got a lot going for them,'' Gagen said. "I don't think we played our best match of the year tonight. But we did improve as the year went on. We finished 10-11 and I don't think many people thought we would do that."
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or firstname.lastname@example.org