Belleville West led Edwardsville through much of their match’s two sets, but in the end it was the Tigers who came out on top 25-22, 25-21 to claim the Granite City boys volleyball regional title.
With the win, the Tigers (25-8) advance into a Friday semifinal against O’Fallon at the Edwardsville sectional. The Panthers moved on with a 25-22, 25-15 victory over Althoff in the title match of the Belleville East Regional on Wednesday. Friday’s match will be played at 6 p.m. at Liberty Middle School in Edwardsville.
“That’s the best West team we’ve seen all season,” said Tigers coach Andy Bersett. “That first set, I thought, they played pretty perfect volleyball. I looked at my coaches and told them, ‘We not playing bad, but they were playing pretty much perfect.’
“In that second game, we made a lot of errors, but we were able to clean things up. In both games, once we started putting the ball in play, good things started happening.”
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The loss was the Maroons’ fourth of the season to Edwardsville, the most recent a 25-15, 25-20 setback in both teams’ regular-season finale May 16. That victory capped a 12-0 run through Southwestern Conference play for the Tigers.
“Honestly, that is the best volleyball we’ve played all year,” said Maroons coach Austin Betz, whose team bows out at 17-20-1, “and I don’t think we really gave those games away with those leads we had. Edwardsville just stepped it up another notch.”
“They’ve got a lot of firepower over there — including tonight when they had guys who have not been a huge part of their offense getting kills — and that makes it tough when all five their attackers are effective.”
In the opening set, West owned a 20-17 lead before the Tigers charged back, scoring eight of the final 10 points. Evan Billiter and Cal Werths had kills that turned a 22-21 deficit into a 23-22 lead that Edwardsville did not relinquish.
In the second game, West seemed even more in command charging to a 7-2 lead, which later grew 16-7 following a kill by the Maroons’ Blake Grosse before the Tigers began to climb back into it.
“Our goal was to just put the ball in play, minimize the errors and play good defense,” said Edwardsville senior Jack Grimm, who topped the Tigers with eight kills. “And once we were able to start picking up the ball, got a better idea of where they were hitting it, we started being able to put the ball down on their side a lot more.”
A double block for an Edwardsville point that drew the Tigers to within 18-14 was followed by an approximate 15-minute delay after back row official George Davis, of Maryville, collapsed.
Davis appeared coherent throughout and was able to get into a folding chair. He was eventually transported by ambulance to a local hospital with a brace on his left hand.
After the match, one of his fellow officials said Davis had stumbled trying to pick up a loose volleyball and that it appeared his only issue was a possible dislocated thumb.
It was all Tigers after play resumed, as Edwardsville reeled off six straight points to go up 20-18. The Tigers never trailed again.
“I’d like to use that (the official’s injury), but we were kind of in a funk before that happened,” said Betz. “I don’t think that hurt us any more than how we were already playing.”
Nick Allen had seven kills for the Tigers, while Lucas Verdun had 24 assists. Bob Dresner had eight digs for Edwardsville.
Tony Brooks had seven kills, and Devin Hunt added six to lead West at the net. Sharron Clay had 10 assists. Connor Martin had nine assists and nine digs for the Maroons.