MILLERSVILLE — The road to a District 3-AAA title was never going to be an easy one for the Red Lion boys' volleyball team.
After knocking off Central York, the third-ranked team in Class AAA in the state on Monday night, next up for the Lions was the No. 4 team, Hempfield, in Wednesday's semifinal round.
For as fast and purposeful as Red Lion, the No. 10 team in the state, came out in Monday's win over the Panthers, the opposite could be said for its start against the Black Knights. Playing catch-up right from the first point, the Lions fell to Hempfield, 25-11, 25-14, 25-20, at Penn Manor High School, sending them to the third-place match on Friday night.
"Tonight, we came out a little flat, dropped our heads and we didn't correct errors," Red Lion coach Richard Torbert said. "We let too many three- and four-point runs go by in the game, and whenever a team starts connecting three- and four-point runs, it gets away from you fast."
Hempfield strung together runs like that at least once a game, if not multiple times. In the first game, there was a 4-0 run to open up a 10-3 lead, a 5-0 run to open up a 17-6 advantage and then a 6-3 run to close out the first game.
To the Lions' credit, they responded better in the second game, opening on a 4-1 run. However, the Black Knights brought the game back to level terms at 7-7 and took command from there. They rattled off the next four points and seven of the next 10 to open a 14-10 lead in the game and then closed it out by winning 10 of the final 14.
"They made less errors than us tonight, for sure," Torbert said. "A couple times, we had players looking around for somebody else to make the play instead of stepping up and calling for the ball and being aggressive. Not aggressive volleyball doesn't fare well."
If there's any positive to take out of Wednesday's defeat for the Lions, it's the way they continued to battle in the third game. The Lions again came out strong, winning the game's first four points to force Hempfield into a timeout. But, like they did in the second game, the Black Knights continued to pick away at the deficit, one mini-run at a time, until they finally took the lead at 10-9.
However, Red Lion never let the game get too far out of reach, falling behind by four points on several occasions, but always battling back to make it a two-point game, until Hempfield went on its final 5-2 run to close out the match.
Next up for the Lions is Friday's third-place match, which is much more than a consolation. With the top four teams clinching berths into the PIAA Class AAA state tournament next week, Red Lion knew going into Wednesday it had already assured itself of a state berth. Now, on Friday, it'll battle for better seeding.
The Lions will face Ephrata in a 6 p.m. match back at Penn Manor, with the winner earning a better seed into the state tournament. Torbert knows the importance that can hold.
"It's not just a consolation match. It actually matters," he said. "It's for seeding for states and we want to win because the higher you end up, third or fourth, you're going to get a better opponent in the state match-up, hopefully. ... We're definitely going to build on that third set for Friday."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org