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Ambridge volleyball gets best of Derry again in PIAA semifinals

| Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 9:57 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Derry's Matt Vasinko spikes on Ambridge's Lee Smith during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ambridge's Dan Zajac (32) spikes past Derry's Troy Balega (23) and Matt Vasinko during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ambridge's Dan Zajac tips the ball past Derry Area's Jake Zemba (right) during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ambridge's Dan Zajac defends on a ball hit by Derry's Ethan Huston during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ambridge's Lee Smith spikes past Derry's Jake Zemba (24) and Nico Latta (21) during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ambridge's Branon Buck spikes over Derry's Matt Vasinko (10) and Ian Malis during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ambridge's Lee Smith spikes past Derry Area's Ian Malis during PiAA boys Volleyball semifinal Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Ambridge's Aaron Mueller (24) and Shawn Butler defend on a spike by Derry's Nico Latta during the PIAA Class AA boys volleyball semifinals Tuesday, June 3, 2014 at North Allegheny High School.

With Tuesday's volleyball match between Ambridge and Derry deadlocked at a game apiece, the Bridgers' Lee Smith told his teammates during a timeout: “We got a fight.”

At the end of the night, Smith and the Bridgers were the last ones standing.

In what has become a spring tradition, Ambridge rallied to take the last two sets for a 3-1 victory in a PIAA Class AA semifinal at North Allegheny.

It was the second consecutive year the Bridgers took out the Trojans in the state semifinals. Ambridge also defeated Derry for the WPIAL title for the third straight season last month.

Next up is another rematch, this time against Northeastern, the District 3 champion that defeated Ambridge in the PIAA final last year. The match takes place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Penn State Rec Hall.

“We definitely have some fire for this next match,” said Smith, a senior. “Last year we lost, so this is our last chance this year.”

It was the 6-foot-6 Smith who led the way for the Bridgers with 20 kills, the last the game-winner in the fourth and final set.

“We're always playing Derry at these top-level competitions,” Smith said. “To come out here and compete for a chance at the finals is an amazing feeling. Not many teams get this chance. It feels amazing, it feels good.”

After the Bridgers (13-1) took the first set 25-23, the Trojans (12-2) raced to a 20-14 lead in the second set. That lead didn't last long before the score tied at 24-24 after a hitting error by the Trojans' Izaak Fulmer-Moffat.

A back-and-forth battle ensued until the set ended on a procedural error called against Smith for lining up in the wrong position. Derry won the second set 30-28.

From there it was all Ambridge, which quickly regrouped to earn the victory, taking the final two sets by scores of 25-21 and 25-23.

“They're a tough team to beat,” Spencer said. “I'm proud of the way my kids competed.”

Ambridge coach Glenn Freed credited the Trojans for putting the Bridgers on their heels after the second set. He was proud of the way his team responded.

“Even in that second set when we were down and then were so close to winning it, that just shows you the team,” Freed said. “They just keep pushing and pushing and pushing.”

The Bridgers got seven blocks from Brandon Buck, 33 assists from Aaron Mueller and four digs from Mitch Brewer.

Derry was led by Ethan Huston (16 kills), Nico Latta (16 kills), Ian Malis (15 digs) and Jake Zemba (37 assists).

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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