August 27, 2014

Elyria
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Strongsville too much for Amherst in Division I volleyball regional semifinal

Amherst's Mallory Sliman and Alayna Johnston defend against Strongsville's Kelsy Bittinger. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

Amherst’s Mallory Sliman and Alayna Johnston defend against Strongsville’s Kelsy Bittinger. STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE

BROADVIEW HEIGHTS — There were no miracles, sustained rallies or rabbits pulled out of any hats Wednesday night at Brecksville High’s gymnasium.

Amherst (22-4) simply never got untracked during the Division I regional semifinal as it lost to Strongsville (23-3) in four games, 25-19, 25-15, 21-25, 25-17.

The Comets earned their way to their first Sweet 16 since 2010 with an improbable 10-point run while facing match point against Elyria in Game 4 to come away with a five-game win in the district final.

On Wednesday, Amherst never did get into its offensive system.

“No, and when we were in a little bit of a flow, it was short-lived,” longtime Amherst coach Laurie Cogan said. “The kids played hard but I thought we came out a little tentative in Games 1 and 2. The pace of the game caught some of the younger kids off guard. I think the whole situation caught most of the kids off guard. However, for them to come back and win Game 3 and be pretty competitive in Game 4, I am very proud of them.”

Amherst, rated as the sixth-best team in the state, found the seventh-best to be very, very good. Led by 6-foot Kent State recruit Kelsey Bittinger, the Mustangs had things pretty much in their control all night.

Bittinger led Strongsville in kills (25), digs (22) and aces (six) in keeping the Comets out of sync most of the evening.

Senior Jackie Fabek added 13 kills and five blocks and freshman Noelle Reinhart had nine. Defensively, junior libero Rachael
Dohar had 26 digs. Strongsville had 10 aces.

“I think we put a lot of pressure on (Amherst) with our serve,” Strongsville coach Erick Sopata said. “We serve pretty aggressive and that can be hit or miss. Game 3, we had a lot of service errors (three) but we kept serving aggressive and kept them out of system.”

The Mustangs will play top-ranked and unbeaten Toledo St. Ursula on Saturday for a berth at the state tournament. St. Ursula (27-0) won a controversial five-set match over underdog Kenston (19-7) with a questionable lifting call, costing Kenston the match point in Game 4.

“(Strongsville) is a very good team,” Cogan said. “They could have kind of kicked us to the curb but I think our fight and will to win wouldn’t let that happen.”

Seniors Mallory Sliman (13 kills, 10 digs) and Riley Schenk (38 assists, 11 digs) left it all on the floor for Amherst. Junior Brooke Wallace made some nice blocks at the net and sophomore Ashley Makruski tried her best to keep the Comets in Game 4 with eight of her team-leading 19 kills. Freshman libero Madison Cruzado, who had the incredible service run against Elyria, had 23 digs.

“In Game 3, Amherst picked up their defense,” Sopata said. “That team has no quit in them. What they went through to get here — we knew that. We talked about that all week. They’re not going to quit no matter what the score is, no matter what the match is.”

With the exception of Game 3, Amherst never led in any game except for a 1-0 lead in the opener. Strongsville came back to grab a 7-2 lead in the first game, led 15-2 early in the second and scored the first five points in Game 4.

“What I did with my lineup and where I was putting kids, we’ve never done that before,” Cogan said. “I was grabbing at straws.
I have a lot of young players on the court — they almost executed what I tried to get them to do. Strongsville was the best team we’ve played all year.”

Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or timothygeb@msn.com.