Mascoutah places third at Class 3A State Volleyball Tournament

The storybook season of the Mascoutah Indians had a happy ending on Saturday at Redbird Arena.

Playing her final match in a Mascoutah uniform, senior Amanda Jung led a balanced attack with eight kills while sophomore Tieghan Morio and junior Katirah Johnson came through in the clutch as the Indians defeated LaSalle-Peru 25-21, 28-26 in the third-place match at the Class 3A State Volleyball Tournament.

And the Indians (34-8) did it in dramatic fashion. With the Lady Cavaliers holding a 24-21 lead in game two, Jung pounded a kill down the right side of the court and with senior Megan Lindsay serving, Morio followed with back-to-back kills to tie the score at 24.

Minutes later, Jung came through again — with her eighth and final kill — to the tie score once again at 26. Then following a hitting error by the Lady Cavaliers, senior Maddie Nekola responded with an ace to win the match.

A split second after Nekola’s serve hit the floor, the Indians bench erupted and players spilled onto the Redbird Arena court to celebrate with their teammates, while Indians coach Todd Gober was embraced by members of his staff.

“The difference between today and yesterday (semifinals) was that we just went out and played today — our game,’’ Jung said minutes after the match. “We wanted to come away with something from the state tournament. It was a great, exciting match. I’m just glad we were able to come through and make shots when we needed to make them.’’

Following the exchange of handshakes with Cavaliers players and coaches, the Indians sprinted over to one corner of the Redbird Arena court where for the second day in a row more than four sections were drenched in purple as Mascoutah fans continued to relish in the accomplishments of its volleyball squad.

An even bigger celebration will be held at Mascoutah High School on Sunday at 2 p.m, when the Indians will be honored during a pep rally and reception.

“It was a great match with a lot of momentum swings, long points and outstanding play by both teams,’’ an elated Coach Gober said in the postgame press conference. “This team has worked tremendously hard all season and today, I like to think they were rewarded for all of that hard work by winning this match..’’

While it was the last game of the match that over 500 Mascoutah fans on the edge of their seats, the first game also had its share of highlights.

Three hitting errors by the Lady Cavaliers broke a 14-all tie as the Indians took control. LaSalle-Peru cut the lead to 17-16 but an ace by Lindsay and back-to-back kills by Lacey Albers increased the Indians margin to 20-16.

The Lady Cavaliers would get no closer and when Paige Weiss scored on a kill minutes later, Mascoutah was a game away from the third place trophy.

Johnson, an athletic 6-foot middle hitter, Johnson had four of her six kills in the opening game.

“In all honesty we couldn’t get the ball to our middles quickly enough,’’ Gober said. “We felt that they (LaSalle-Peru) may have had an advantage on the outside but that if we could get them into some long rallies and get them moving a little bit more that we would be able to exploit them up the middle. That’s what happened.’’

In game two, Mascoutah broke a 9-all tie on a kill by Jung and two Lady Cavaliers hitting errors then increased the lead to 14-10 on a kill by Morio.

But just as quickly, the momentum shifted in favor of the Lady Cavaliers who scored nine of the next 10 points to jump to a 19-15 lead. The Indians made four hitting errors during the run — three by Morio — who later more than made up for her miscues.

“Volleyball is a game of lead chances and switches in momentum, and it can happen in the fraction of a second,’’ LaSalle-Peru coach Mark Haberkorn said. “It seemed like they (Mascoutah) was in complete control then they make a few errors and we hit a couple of winners and we’re right back in the match.

“There were a lot of great points which were won by both teams today. Unfortunately for us they (Mascoutah) won a few more than we did.’’

A hitting error by Lindsay gave the Lady Cavaliers a 21-16 lead before Morio and her Mascoutah teammates made big plays in the end.

“She (Morio) had an up and down day. She would make a couple of plays and then we would take her out when she would miss. She had one streak where she had four hitting errors in a row,’’ Gober said. “But she came through with some big kills and plays when we needed them the most.’’

Dean Criddle: 618-239-2661, @CriddleDean