MINERSVILLE - It's the matchup that nearly every high school boys' volleyball fan has been waiting for -- Ambridge vs. Northeastern.
Most figured that the top two teams in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA rankings throughout the season would see each other a handful of times in weekend tournaments.
They did not.
Now both squads will get their chance to prove who's No. 1 at 1 p.m. Saturday at Penn State University.
The York-Adams and District 3 champion Bobcats punched their ticket to the PIAA state finals Tuesday by rolling past District 2 champion Holy Redeemer, 25-13, 25-15, 25-17, at Minersville High School.
The Bridgers did the same, sweeping District 7 rival Derry, setting up one of the most highly anticipated clashes of the season.
"We've been in every tournament together, yet we haven't faced each other," Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said. "We've been on a collision course to play them, but someone would bow out of the tournament before we got to that point. On two occasions, if both teams would have done what they were supposed to have done, we would have met."
Riding the hot nights of brothers Stephen and Luke Braswell, the Bobcats were never seriously challenged by a Holy Redeemer team that was making its first-ever appearance in the state semifinals.
Stephen Braswell led the attack with 12 kills to go with 11 digs and four blocks, while Luke Braswell dished out 35 assists to go with seven digs and two blocks.
Perhaps just as key to Northeastern's sweep of the Royals was the play at the net of middle hitter Malik Jefferson. Jefferson led the Bobcats with seven blocks against a Holy Redeemer outfit that featured twin towers Mike Morrison (6-foot-7) and Mike Prociak (6-foot-8).
"Malik has one of the biggest verticals that we've ever had here (at Northeastern)," Stephen Braswell said. "So we just said 'you're going against the big guys ... have at it.'"
Neither Morrison nor Prociak was much of a threat. The Bobcats again neutralized taller middle hitters at the net. In their first-round victory over Bethlehem Catholic, Wilson's club did the same against their 6-foot-11 middle, Matt Husek.
"We knew that there were a couple of plays that they like to run," Wilson said. "Obviously when you have that size, you want to try to take advantage of it. Fortunately for us, Malik is a fantastic, straight-up blocker and we just sort of told him that it was like a jump ball, go up there and get it."
The Royals had trouble containing Northeastern's multi-faceted attack. In addition to Braswell's 12 kills, Reese Devilbiss added nine, Philip White had five, Casey Winand had four and Jefferson added three. The result was a number of Northeastern runs that prevented Redeemer from gaining any traction.
"You plant a little seed of doubt and that's what it's all about," Wilson said.
After celebrating the sweep, the Bobcats could be heard from the gym floor celebrating their upcoming trip to the finals in the locker room. Those cheers were partly in celebration and partly in relief, according to Wilson.
"A lot of stress just exuded out of them there," Wilson said. "We've been talking about (winning a state title) for a year, ever since the day we left State College last year (after falling in the state quarterfinals). So to work our way back ... it's a good feeling."
The Bobcats will be chasing the fourth state title in the history of the storied boys' volleyball program.
-- Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.