ST. MARYS — Elk County Catholic trailed by as many as 10 points at 18-8 to visiting Cranberry in the opening set of Thursday’s District 9 Class A semifinal match before storming back just to fall short 25-13.
The Lady Crusaders built off that momentum from a strong finish to the first set to win the next three sets 25-10, 25-22 and 27-25 to advance to the district title match.
“These playoff games, all these teams we’ve faced are the real deal, they’ve been some great completion,” Elk County Catholic head coach Kelsey Morey said. “It hasn’t been easy by any means to make it to this point and that’s why the girls have just played hard and played their hearts out so I’m really proud of them.”
The opening set was tightly contested early, as a pair of service points from ECC”s Taylor Newton, who had a big night on the line and at the net, helped the home side cut the deficit to 10-8.
After a side out sent the service back to the Lady Berries, Ava Ferringer rattled off seven straight service points behind a pair of aces and two kills from Abby Hanna to give them a 18-8 advantage.
Later in the first set Julia Aikens came up with a kill for the Lady Crusaders to help swing the momentum, as she then took to the line and won a pair of points on a Newton kill and block to cut Cranberry’s lead to 21-15.
While ECC appeared to have all of the momentum, the first of three straight service faults began to diminish its chances of a comeback, as the third gave the Lady Berries set point at 24-18.
After a side out, Newton recorded four service points in a row aided by back-to-back aces to help the Lady Crusaders cut the visitors’ lead to 24-23.
The following service led to a kill by Ferringer as Cranberry held on for a 25-23 victory to take a 1-0 set lead.
With the second set tied at 5-5, a side out led to another long service run by Newton, as the senior this time won seven straight points to give ECC a 13-5 advantage.
The run was started with an ace, as Aikens had a pair of kills and Brooke Bauer chipped in a kill.
The home side finished off the second set to even the match at one with a four-point run from Ellie Fledderman, as she had an ace during the stretch and Newton had a kill during the stretch and a pair of blocks, the second of which finishing off a 25-10 win.
Newton finished the match with 30 kills, five blocks, 17 service points and four aces, while Aikens added 13 kills and 12 service points for ECC and Fledderman finished with nine service points.
The third set was back-and-forth throughout as each side looked to take a pivotal 2-1 lead with neither being able to pull away from the other as Cranberry’s lead at 16-12 was the largest for either team in the entire set.
The Lady Berries later led 20-18 after a ECC service fault, but the home side then closed the set on a 7-2 run to win the set 25-22.
Following the fault, a side out gave the Lady Crusaders another chance at the service line, as this time it was Aikens to take the serve.
Aikens won three points at the line all off of kills by Newton as the home side retook the lead at 22-20.
A side out would later trim ECC’s lead to 23-22 as the Lady Berries looked to recapture the lead with their service, but another kill by Newton gave her team set-point and the serve at 24-22.
On a service by Fledderman, a Cranberry shot sailed over the end line as the Lady Crusaders closed out the 25-22 victory to go up two sets to one.
The drama continued in the fourth set, as the visitors began to pull away near the midway point of the set on a pair of strong service runs.
The first came from Maddie Cornelius after yet another service fault by ECC, who finished with 13 in the match, allowed the Lady Berries to get within two at 11-9.
“We’re lucky that didn’t catch up with us,” Morey said of her team’s faults. “That’s been kind of our theme through the season is our service errors up and down, we’ve been focusing on that and working on it, so hopefully we can get our mind right for Saturday.”
Cornelius then helped give her team the lead with a three-point run capped off by a kill from Ferringer, as a kill by Madyson Dellaquila brought the service back to the home side of the court.
Ferringer quickly put an end to ECC’s service with a kill, as Emily Duncan won three points of her own at the line to give Cranberry a 16-12 edge as it looked to force a fifth set.
The play down the stretch in the fourth set was filled with a little bit of everything as the teams found themselves tied multiple times down the stretch at 20, 22, 23, 24 and 25.
After Ferringer tied things up at 24 with a kill for Cranberry, the Lady Crusaders earned their first match-point when Bauer pushed a kill into the back corner to make it 24-23.
After a side out evened the score once again, a kill by Newton gave ECC another match-point, but things were quickly knotted up again at 25 apiece after another side out.
On the ensuing service by Cranberry, Aikens came up with a big kill for the home side to give them their third match-point opportunity.
This time the Lady Crusaders capitalized, as Newton came up with a sliding dig on a kill attempt by Cranberry’s Maria Anderson.
Newton’s dig sailed towards the net, as Fledderman was able to leap and tip the ball over the net off a Berries player and down onto the court for the match-winning point as ECC celebrated earning a berth into the title match.
Elk County Catholic will now take on second-seeded Clarion in the District 9 Class A title match Saturday at 3 p.m. at St. Marys Area High School.
“We’re excited to go up against them (Clarion), we’re excited to play and be there,” Morey said.