The comeback kids dressed in gold and blue did it again Tuesday at Alton High School.
Pushed to the limit for the second straight night by one of the top volleyball programs in the state, the O’Fallon Panthers refused to lose as they rallied for a thrilling 18-25, 25-22, 25-23 win over Joliet West in the title match of the Alton Sectional.
Forced to rally to beat Southwestern Conference foe Edwardsville in three games in the semifinals, O’Fallon raised its play to another level in the late going, and when Luke Meidel hammered down his second straight kill — this one on match point — the Panthers were headed to the IHSA State Boys Volleyball Tournament for the first time in school history.
Almost before Meidel’s kill bounced past a Tigers player, the Panthers stormed the court in celebration while Meidel, a sophomore outside hitter, found himself on the Alton High court on the bottom of a pile-on while a large O’Fallon following joined in the fun.
“It’s the first time I’ve been piled on, but it felt great,’’ Meidel said. “This match was a like the Edwardsville match when we lost the first game. But we picked it up and we picked up our game. I don’t know what to say. This feeling is almost indescribable.’’
Senior right side hitter Parker Roustio led a balanced Panthers attack with 11 kills while junior setter Lucas Hackmann added 15 assists for O’Fallon (25-9-6), which will take on Vernon Hills in the second of four state tournament quarterfinal games at Hoffman Estates High School on Friday at 2 p.m.
Vernon Hills defeated Barrington 25-23, 25-21 on Tuesday to win the Antioch Sectional.
Joliet West (26-12), led by outside hitter Juwann Jackson and middle hitter Luke Van Eck, dominated the first game, not allowing the Panthers to score more then two straight points at any time.
But when Hackmann and Meidel scored on consecutive blocks early in game two, O’Fallon had its first two-point lead of the night and more importantly, the Panthers had a little momentum.
“For some reason we’ve started out slowly in a lot of our matches this year,’’ O’Fallon coach Katelyn Haagrty said. “But give them (Joliet West) a little bit of credit for that tonight. They came out and played very well early in the match and we didn’t. I really didn’t say much to the team between game one and two. All I told them was to not to get down on themselves it they missed a shot. I reminded them that it was only one point and that they had teammates to pick them up.
“The last two games we blocked a lot better and that was the same thing that happened against Edwardsville the other night. They (Joliet West) were going to the quick set and that’s something we hadn’t seen before this year. We adjusted after the first game, we hustled and we just kept battling. I couldn’t be any prouder of my team.’’
Still riding high after holding off a late Tigers charge in game two, O’Fallon jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead to start the final game,. Kills by Roustio and Alex Belongy got O’Fallon off and running and when senior Austin Minor came up with consecutive blocks, O’Fallon had the Tigers in trouble.
“We came down today and I thought we came out with a lot of intensity and played very well early in the match. We had a good game plan and in the first game we followed that game plan the way we wanted,’’ Joliet West coach Jason Hermann said. “ But give O’Fallon credit. They adjusted and they blocked extremely well in the final two games.
“It’s disappointing. But we’ve had a good year. The kids played very well all season.’’
O’Fallon’s lead reached 10-4 minutes later on a block by Hackmann and when Roustio followed with his ninth kill of the night a short time later, the Panthers had their biggest lead of the night at 15-9.
But with each team seemingly raising their level of play with each point, Joliet West responded with a run of its own to get back into the game. With the high-flying Jackson scoring on a pair of back row kills, the Tigers cut their deficit to 17-15.
Seconds later, a kill by senior Matt Wyman and an ace by Kyler Van Rossum tied the game at 17.
The Tigers then took a 20-19 lead when Jackson smashed home a kill, but a kill by Belongy tied the game at 20 seconds later.
O’Fallon never trailed again.
“We just picked ourselves up after we lost the first game,’’ Roustio said. “Lucas (Hackmann) had a great night passing the ball and we were able to get the offense going in the last two games. It feels great to be going to the state tournament. We’ve worked hard for this all year.’’
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.