KNOX — After trailing just once in the opening two sets on its way to 25-18 and 25-19 wins, Clarion looked to finish off a sweep with a third set victory in Tuesday’s PIAA Class A opener against Saegertown at Keystone High School.
Instead the Lady Panthers used a furious run late in the third set to take a 23-21 edge as the District 10 runners-up looked to force a fourth set.
Clarion (17-1) then responded by winning the next four points to finish off the three-set victory with a 25-23 win to advance to the quarterfinal round.
“I knew they (Saegertown) would be tough and they are a team we haven’t seen anywhere, no tournaments, no scouting opportunities,” Clarion head coach Shari Campbell said. “It was really important to come out and take it in three (sets).”
The District 9 champion Lady Cats led the final set 21-17 before a kill by Saegertown’s Kaylee Mulligan began to swing the momentum.
Mulligan then took to the service line and won five straight points, kick started by a kill of her own and later helped along by an ace and a kill from Ava Jones as the Lady Panthers looked to keep their season alive.
Holding a 23-21 edge, Mulligan’s next service eventually led to what appeared to be a kill for Saegertown, but instead was kept alive by a diving dig from KK Girvan and eventually finished off by a kill from Korrin Burns which sent Brenna Campbell to the line.
Campbell, who was Clarion’s most reliable server throughout the match, won the ensuing two points on a pair of aces to give her team match-point at 24-23.
On Campbell’s next serve, Saegertown was barely able to get the ball back over the net as Burns was there to smash home an emphatic match-winning kill for her 20th kill of the night.
“That was outstanding,” Campbell said of Burns’ play. “She had a 33 kill percentage and that really drove things home and I’m really proud of the way she played tonight.”
Looking to get off to a strong start in the opening set, the Lady Cats did just that as they led from start to finish and only saw the set tied once at the very beginning at 1-1.
Just like the match ended, Clarion was led in the first set by Campbell at the service line and Burns at the net.
While the Lady Cats had 12 service points in the opening set, the junior setter had six of them, as Burns led a powerful attack at the net with eight first-set kills.
After Saegertown got a kill from Mollie Przybrowski to pull within one at 3-2 early in the set, a kill by Burns began to allow Clarion to pull away.
Campbell followed with a three-point run from the service line behind kills from Burns and Aryana Girvan to push the lead to 7-2.
The Lady Panthers never got back within a point, as a kill by Brittany Houck got them as close as they would come down the stretch of the first set at 14-10.
Once again it was a kill by Burns leading to a second run of three points from the line by Campbell that gave Clarion a commanding 18-10 advantage.
Burns eventually finished off the 25-18 win with her eighth kill of the set to give the Lady Cats a 1-0 set advantage.
The second set was much tighter in the early going, as the two sides traded three point runs as Clarion jumped out to 3-0 and 6-3 leads before the Lady Panthers responded with three points in a row of their own to tie the set at three and six.
A three-point service run by Amber Costello gave Saegertown its first lead of the match at 7-6, which proved to be its only lead in the second set despite keeping things close for most of the way.
A block from Maddie Schill and three service points from Grace Ochs gave Clarion the lead back for good.
Later in the set, Burns recorded a kill then back-to-back service points on a kill of her own and a block from Schill as the Lady Cats appeared to be running away with the set at 21-13.
Instead, Saegertown fought back to trim the deficit to two points after a kill by Jones sent Costello to the service line.
Costello, who finished with a match-high 13 service points, won five points in a row on a pair of aces and a kill from Carmen Kantz as the Lady Panthers trimmed the deficit to 21-19.
Schill put an end to the comeback attempt with a kill to send Ochs to the line as the freshman won the next three points to close out the match.
Aryana Girvan got the run started with a key block, while Constantino finished off the 25-19 set win with a cross-court kill to give Clarion a 2-0 set advantage.
The third set was by far the most competitive of the night, as neither side held more than a four-point lead the entire way through.
That four-point advantage came for Clarion late in the set after a service fault by the Lady Panthers sent the service back to the D-9 champs.
KK Girvan then secured a pair of points from the line on kill by Burns and Constantino as the Lady Cats took a 21-17 edge as they looked to close out the match.
Constantino finished with six kills while Aryana Girvan and Schill both added five apiece.
That is when Mulligan helped swing the momentum to the Saegertown side, allowing it to jump back in front at 23-21.
Clarion then won the final four points of the match to win 25-23 and close out the match in three sets and move on to the next round.
Clarion will now face District 6 runner-up Bishop Carroll in the quarterfinals Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
The Lady Huskies defeated WPIAL (District 7) champion Bishop Canevin 25-16, 21-25, 25-14, 25-21 in the opening round Tuesday.
“I feel good about it,” Campbell said of her team’s chances moving forward. “We’ve seen the opponents playing in the bracket ahead of us and we feel comfortable with a game plan against them.”