O'FALLON — On a night when six seniors were honored, the O'Fallon Panthers provided one last thrill and a second straight Southwestern Conference title for a large crowd Wednesday at the Panther Dome.
Senior John Hartkop led a balanced attack with eight kills and the Panthers' defense held Belleville East in check throughout as O'Fallon clinched the SWC title with a 25-22, 25-20 victory.
In the opening game, a tip from Dirk Husemann snapped a 22-all tie and sent O'Fallon on to a victory. The Panthers (27-5-1) then went on a 6-1 scoring run early in the second game before closing out East for good.
Four different O'Fallon players scored during the spurt, as the Panthers turned a 7-all tie into a 13-8 lead.
"That's what makes this team so strong. We don't have just the one player when we come to a big part of game. We have several and that makes it hard for the opposition to defend us, because it's never sure where the ball is going,'' O'Fallon coach Katelyn Hagarty said. "Our setters also do a good job of spreading the ball around.''
Husemann added seven kills, while Alex Belongy (five kills) and Nolan Melesky had four kills apiece for O'Fallon.
The win was the second of the year over East for the Panthers who finish the 2014 SWC season at 9-1.
The Lancers (18-6-2) ended the SWC season at 8-2.
"East is a good team and we knew that coming into tonight. It's just that I think the fact that we have so many seniors was a factor in this win,'' Hagarty said. "They realize that this is it and they wanted to repeat as conference champions. This group isn't ready to stop playing yet and they want to take it as far as they can.
"To win one conference championship was great. But there aren't many teams who can win back-to-back years. I'm very proud of them.''
The loss spoiled another stellar performance by Lancers senior Josiah Bergt, who led all players with 10 kills. Austin Cox added six kills for East.
Despite the loss, East battled hard.
Five times in the first game, O'Fallon led by three points only to have East rally to tie the game.
O'Fallon's last three-point run gave it the first game.
"Take nothing away from O'Fallon. They are a good team. They played hard tonight and they blocked very well. We didn't block at all,'' East coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. "When you don't block it's hard to win games. I think we had two points on blocks all night.
"On the offensive end we just didn't click. Later on, when we started passing a little better, our offense worked a little bit better. I thought we played hard until the end, but sometimes the level of play you need to succeed just isn't there.''
The Lancers had a pair of two point leads --2-0 and 7-5 in the second game -- but couldn't sustain its momentum.
A three-point service run by Alex Belongy gave O'Fallon a 10-8 lead. Minutes later a tip by Jon Hobbs and a pair of Lancers' hitting errors increased the Lancers deficit to 16-10.
The Lancers would get no closer than four points the rest of the night.