What had been simmering for over a year finally boiled over on Tuesday in a sweltering Belleville West gymnasium. And revenge never tasted any sweeter for the Belleville East Lancers.
Playing his position to perfection, Belleville East sophomore Braden Shelley ended a near two-hour classic with a pair of blocks as the Lancers outlasted Belleville West 29-27, 24-26, 26-24 in the semifinals of the Belleville West Boys Regional Volleyball Tournament.
The third-seeeded Lancers (16-13), who had two match points in game two before West rallied, staved off a match point in the final set when junior Ryan McCarthy hammered down a kill to tie the game at 24.
Beaten by Belleville West four straight times, including in the regional tournament a year ago, the Lancers then clinched a berth in the title match when Shelley successfully blocked kill attempts at the net.
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“What did we do differently tonight than we had done the previous four matches against West? Nothing really. We’ve just really been working hard and playing some pretty good volleyball? We just kept battling all night,’’ East coach Dan Kloess said. “They’ve had our number the last few times and it looked like they might get us again. But the kids played hard until the end.
“After last year when they beat us in the regional, it feels good to get a little revenge tonight. I just hope we don’t have a letdown in the regional title match now.’’
The win moves East into the regional title contest at 6 p.m. Wednesday,when it will take on top-seeded O’Fallon. The Panthers (21-9-6) defeated Althoff 25-14, 25-23 in the first semifinal Tuesday.
After winning the first game on a point by sophomore Ransford White, East jumped out to a quick 8-3 lead in game two before the Maroons (20-16) rallied. Led by junior Nick Stephenson and senior Justin Buettner, the Maroons batttled back on a four point service run by Timothy Neff to take a 19-16 lead late in game two.
But East battled back to tie the score at 22 on a kill by Peter Bergt. Seconds later, a second kill by Bergt gave East its first of two match points as they took a 24-22 lead.
But Neff responded. A block by the 6-foot-1 middle blocker cut the Lancers’ lead to 24-23 and gave the serve back to the Maroons. With senior Nick Horton serving, Neff had a second block and following a hitting error by the Laancers, Neff had another block that gave West the game and tied the match at a win each.
“Tim is one of our better players and he came up big for us there late in the second game,’’ Maroons coach Austin Betz said. “I really can’t pinpoint anyone thing which as the difference tonight. They (East) did a great job of blocking and we made a few crucial serving errors in the last game.
But (Nick) Stephenson had a great night for us and we had several other players step up. It’s not that we played bad. They (East) just played a little better late in the match.’’
East, getting brilliant play from senior Joseph Masterson and hitters Os Moore and Rico Walker, just proved to have a little too much late in the match for the Maroons.
East also got a great effort out of sophomore Logan Williams.
“He (Williams) was all over the court tonight,’’ Kloess said. “But it wasn’t just one player. We had almost everybody who played tonight, step up at crucial times. It was a great team effort.’’
In the first match of the night
O’Fallon 25-25, Althoff 14-23
Seniors Alex Belongy and Parker Roustio proved to have a little too much power as the Panthers held off the much-improved Althoff in the first semifinal of the night.
Althoff, getting strong play from several players including senior Hayden Buss and junior Carson Von Alst, were simply overpowered by the bigger and stronger O’Fallon squad in the first game, but responded with a solid effort in game two as they took the Panthers down to the wire.
“I thought we came out and played very well in the first game. Then we lost our intensity a little bit in game two. That’s been something we’ve struggled doing all year. We play good one game and then not so good the other,’’ Panthers coach Katelyn Hagarty said. “I thought (Parker) Roustio played very well on the outside tonight and hit very well and we had some other players also step up and do some good things late in the match.
“Give Althoff credit. They have really improved since the beginning of the season. They gave us all we wanted in the second game.’’
Althoff ends its season at 8-12.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2661.