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Plum upends Norwin on way to fourth

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 11:33 a.m.
Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader
Junior outside hitter Nathan Kunkel gets set defensively during a game in the first round of pool play at the Plum Invitational on April 26, 2014. Plum made the Gold Bracket playoffs and beat Norwin in the quarterfinals on its way to a fourth-place finish.

Norwin has been a thorn in the side of the Plum varsity boys volleyball team for the past couple years.

The Mustangs had not been able to solve the Knights in section matches or in tournament play.

Norwin owns a nine-match winning streak over Plum in section dating back to 2010, including a three-game victory at Plum High School on April 8.

At the Plum Invitational two years ago, the Knights defeated the Mustangs in the semifinals en route to the tournament title.

Last year, Norwin defended its Plum Invitational title with a 24-20 come-from-behind victory over Plum in the championship game.

But the Mustangs were able to gain a measure of revenge, and confidence, against the Knights over the weekend.

�Plum held off a Norwin charge in their one-game quarterfinal contest at Saturday's invitational at Plum, as the Mustangs topped the Knights to advance to the semifinals.

Beating Norwin was a taste of satisfaction for Plum, even though it fell to Butler in the semifinals.

The Mustangs started their playoff run with a one-game win over Shaler in one of two play-in games where the winners advanced to the quarterfinals.

“The win over Shaler definitely carried over into the game with Norwin,” Plum head coach Mike Larko Jr. said.

“(The Norwin victory) was a huge win for us. Even though it was only one game to 25, we hadn't beaten them in quite a while. It was great to see them pull through in that game. We made some key plays and limited errors.”

Plum started the tournament in pool play and went 2-4 in six games against Montour (0-2), Butler (0-2) and South Park (2-0).

“I don't think we played all that well in the morning,” Larko said.

“Montour and Butler are tough teams, but we knew we had another chance in the afternoon, and we did well there to put us in the playoffs.”

Plum found itself in the third-place pool in the afternoon, and the Mustangs qualified for the 10-team Gold Bracket playoffs with a 3-0 result.

The Mustangs earned one-game wins over Conneaut Area, Deer Lakes and Baldwin.

Only the top two teams from the third-place pool advanced to the Gold Bracket.

Plum entered the week 4-4 in Section 3-AAA play.

The Mustangs were to host Penn-Trafford on Tuesday in a rematch of a 3-1 loss at the home of the Warriors on April 3.

Plum will get its second crack at Norwin on Thursday at Norwin High School at 7:30 p.m.

“I think the win over Norwin on Saturday gives us a psychological boost that we have the ability to finish a game out,” Larko said.

“We got one game against them Saturday. There's no reason why we can't win three games (Thursday).”

Seniors Brenden Grande and Andy Marzullo are slowly getting back to the lineup after recovering from pneumonia and a concussion, respectively.

Grande gradually returned to practice last week. Marzullo was cleared to practice Friday, and he practiced for the first time Monday afternoon.

“It gives us more options in the lineup,” Larko said.

“They might be a little rusty at the start, but it's nice to have them back.”

Larko said it's a two-way street with Grande and Marzullo getting back into the swing of things and the team getting up to speed with them in the lineup after not having them on the court for a good chunk of this season.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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