RED LION — The unfortunate thing about being a 2-A girls' volleyball team in District 3 is that only one team will qualify for the PIAA state draw.
Even if two state-ranked teams meet up in the semifinals, as was the case Thursday evening at Red Lion High School.
York-Adams League Division III co-champions Delone Catholic and York Catholic squared off in the district semis knowing that only one of them will have a shot at winning a district and state title.
The Irish, who came in ranked No. 3 in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association poll, and the Squirettes, who were No. 4, settled the score between the parochial rivals. After they each won their home contest in the regular season, the winner of Thursday’s clash would ultimately win the season series.
Led by dominating nights by all-state players Maddie Clabaugh and Brooke Lawyer, the Delone girls scored a 25-21, 25-18, 24-26, 25-18 victory to earn a berth in the finals.
The Squirettes will face Trinity (19-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Dallastown. Trinity won its semifinal over fourth-seeded Middletown (14-5) on Thursday, 3-0.
“We knew what we had going in,” Irish coach Phil Autrey said. “And, to their credit, the girls were like ‘we have to win … no excuses.'”
Autrey’s club, however, ran into two buzz saws. Lawyer and Clabaugh took turns firing away at will on the Irish defense. Clabaugh tallied a game-high 20 kills, while Lawyer smashed 15 more.
“They have a lot of experience,” Autrey said of Lawyer and Clabaugh. “And you can’t count that experience out and that definitely means something.”
The YC girls, however, have the experience of beating the Delone girls twice over the past two seasons. Despite falling behind big early in Set 1, the Irish rallied back to make it a contest. They did so again in Set 2. That momentum lasted into Set 3, when they again rallied late for the win.
Taking Set 3 to force a fourth set appeared to turn things around for Autrey’s club. There was better intensity and more excitement heading into Set 4.
Unfortunately for the Irish, the Delone girls weren’t about to let the contest move into a fifth set. The defense was able to somewhat contain YC standout Hope Levy-Gaskins, who finished with 18 kills.
“We’re usually playing them in the finals,” Lawyer said of the Irish. “So playing (in the semifinals) makes us enjoy this win more just because it’s York Catholic.”
While Lawyer and Clabaugh were elated to survive, they, along with Delone coach Jason Leppo, certainly empathized with the tough situation that their rivals are now in. Being a top-five team in the state and not even having the opportunity to qualify for the state tournament is upsetting, to say the least.
“It (stinks),” Leppo said. “York Catholic is good and (beating them) is an awesome experience moving forward. And we had a lot of things break right for us, but for them to not even be a part of it (stinks). They should probably look at expanding the state tournament to 32, like they do for basketball.”
Third-seeded Delone improved to 18-2. Second-seeded York Catholic finished at 17-2.
Central York 3, Central Dauphin 1: At Dallastown, the Panthers rallied from a stumbling start to down the Rams and advance to the District 3 Class 4-A championship match.
Central York lost the opening game 25-13 before rebounding in a big way to earn the triumph by winning the final three games, 25-17, 25-14, 25-22.
The top-seeded Panthers improved to 15-1, while fifth-seeded Central Dauphin fell to 14-4.
Central now faces a big challenge in Saturday's title match when it will face unbeaten Hempfield (18-0). The Black Knights are seeded second in the district 4-A field, but they're also ranked No. 5 in the state in 4-A, according to the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. Central York is unranked.
The 4-A title match is set for 5 p.m. Saturday at Dallastown.
Hempfield won its semifinal on Thursday, 3-0, over sixth-seeded Cumberland Valley (13-4).
Garden Spot 3, West York 2: At Hempfield, the Bulldogs dropped their District 3 Class 3-A semifinal contest, but their season isn't over.
West York fell to Garden Spot, 25-23, 23-25, 25-22, 13-25, 15-12 in a back-and-forth affair.
The second-seeded Bulldogs dropped to 20-2, while third-seeded Garden Spot improved to 18-2.
West York will now compete in the district 3-A third-place match on Saturday at a site and time to be determined. The Bulldogs will face fourth-seeded Berks Catholic (15-4) at 1 p.m. Saturday at West York. West York must win Saturday's match to advance to the PIAA state playoffs.
Berks Catholic fell to top-seeded Palmyra in Thursday's other 3-A semifinal, 3-1.
West York is the defending state 3-A champion and entered Thursday's match ranked No. 5 in the state in 3-A this season by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association. Garden Spot was unranked.
Garden Spot, meanwhile, will face Palmyra at 5 p.m. Saturday in the district 2-A title match at Central York. Both teams in the title match have already clinched state berths.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.