DALLASTOWN – It wasn't always pretty.
Nor was it perfection.
But in the end, it got the job done.
For the third District 3-AAA girls' volleyball playoff contest in a row, Central York lost the first game of its match on Thursday night. But, for the third match in a row, the Panthers rallied back to claim an important victory.
After dropping the first game to Cumberland Valley in the semifinals at Dallastown High School, the York-Adams Division I champs rebounded by taking the next two games. And after the Eagles were able to even the match up by winning Game 4, the Panthers staved off one match point before punching their ticket to the final.
Senior Emily Poole came up with a huge block with CV leading 14-13 in Game 5. That point spurred Central to win the final two points, helping the Panthers claim a 19-25, 25-15, 25-22, 22-25, 16-14 triumph.
Central will now face Hempfield, a 3-0 winner over Garden Spot, in the District 3-AAA final at 7 p.m. Saturday back at Dallastown. Hempfield is ranked No. 3 in the state in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AAA state poll.
The York-Adams League will have a finalist in each of the three District 3 finals. Delone Catholic is in the AA title match, while York Catholic will battle for the Class A crown.
"I'm kind of speechless right now," Central coach Nate Ocasio said. "It's a hell of a team win. All of the pieces are starting to come together."
Facing a team that in many ways is a mirror image of themselves, the Panthers were able to hang with a CV squad that features depth and size. They also showed resolve in bouncing back after Game 4 to take the early lead in Game 5, only to see the Eagles rally once more.
With the Panthers' district championship aspirations on the line, it was the 6-foot, 2-inch Poole who literally saved her team when she was needed most. Her block with the score 14-13 evened up the match, leading to a surge in momentum for her side.
"Whenever Emily gets a huge kill (or block), that kind of gets us all excited," Central libero Hannah Rishel said.
Rishel was also instrumental in helping her team throughout the night. The diminutive senior was able to dig up nearly a dozen laser-like kill attempts to keep her team alive in the rally. Many times those digs led to points for her club, which helped swing momentum in their favor.
"She's been awesome the entire district run," Ocasio said of Rishel. "She's been playing very solid in the serve-receive, but especially on the defensive end."
Poole (22 kills) and Alison Rife (10 kills) were the main recipients of Rishel's fantastic play.
The Panthers haven't won a girls' volleyball district title since the sport moved to the fall back in 1984. Now, after achieving one of the main goals for the season, Ocasio and company would love to finish their bucket list with a gold medal come Saturday.
"We're looking forward to it," said Rishel. "We're just playing every point like it's our last."
Fortunately for the Panthers, whatever the outcome is on Saturday, the team already knows the season will continue. The top three teams in the District 3-AAA bracket earn berths into the PIAA tournament.
OTHER DISTRICT 3 GIRLS' VOLLEYBALL
Delone Catholic 3, York Suburban 0: There's something to be said for big-game experience, and no team in the York-Adams League has more of that than Delone Catholic.
Perennially one of the top teams in the District 3 and PIAA tournaments, the Squirettes are just two years removed from a state title.
All the moxie they've gained from those travels came in handy Thursday night when they battled York Suburban in the District 3-AA semifinals. The rematch of the York-Adams League playoff final didn't change much, although the Trojans gave Delone all that it could handle.
In the end, the Trojans saw their season come to an abrupt halt after Delone handed them a 25-15, 25-21, 25-19 setback.
"I think the first set we had a case of nerves," said Suburban coach Sonia Guyer. "I think we did the best we could to try to prepare for it. I think there was a good chance that we were going to be, but we just wanted so badly to not be."
The nerves appeared to kick in after Suburban raced out to a 9-5 lead in Game 1. That's when the Squirettes turned things around, responding back with an impressive 20-6 run to close it out.
The York-Adams Division II runner-up was able to fight Delone in both Game 2 and Game 3 but came up short. The final charge came in Game 3 when the Trojans closed a big deficit to within 20-18 late.
The early run in Game 1 and the late one in Game 3 demonstrated to Guyer that her team had all the tools necessary to upset Delone.
"If we were able to execute our game-plan and we were on all cylinders, I think this could have been different," Guyer said.
Seniors Jordan Landis and Ciara Buckingham paced the Trojans offensively. Landis finished with eight kills and three blocks while Buckingham tallied six kills to go with three blocks.
Delone, which will face Berks Catholic in the District 3-AA finals at 5 p.m. Saturday at Dallastown, were led by Sarah Senft's 14 kills. Setter Katie Laughman dished out 32 assists.
York Catholic 3, High Point Baptist 0: At Hempfield, the Irish won the District 3-A semifinal match, 25-16, 25-21, 25-20. Eliza Johnson led the Irish with 16 kills. Also for York Catholic, Emily Hoffman had 16 digs, seven kills and seven aces, McKenna Walker had 31 assists and five digs and Rachel Shelley had eight kills. York Catholic moves on to the District 3-A championship match at 3 p.m. Saturday at Dallastown High School against Lititz Christian, which earned a 3-2 triumph over Conestoga Christian in the other semifinal on Thursday. The Lady Irish will be after their first District 3 title since claiming the AA crown in 2007. That is York Catholic's only District 3 girls' volleyball crown.
Berks Catholic 3, Susquehannock 1: At Hempfield, the Warriors gave a powerhouse Berks Catholic team a bit of a scare before falling, 25-23, 21-25, 25-13, 25-21, in a District 3-AA semifinal. Berks Catholic entered the game ranked No. 1 in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class AA state poll. The loss ended the Warriors' season. Karah Sweitzer (28 digs), Laura Savin (21 kills, nine digs), Kelly Franz (42 assists, 19 digs), Abby Ferraro (15 digs), Gabee Ogude (12 kills) and Amber Bortner (17 digs) paced the Warriors.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.