Story and photos by Scott Serio
Perryville Head Coach Matt Borelli summed up the entire day in one sentence for both his Panthers and indirectly for the Rising Sun squad who played earlier.
“We could have won, that’s what hurts the most,” said Borelli. “I don’t think we have ever scored more than 16 or 17 (points) against Smithsburg ever…It was just that momentum shift in the third set that killed us.”
Perryville lost in the Maryland State Volleyball 1A Finals to Smithsburg in four sets, but could only kick themselves after watching a 24-20 lead in the third set evaporate and blow up into a 26-24 loss. That swing carried itself into the final set as Smithsburg went on to win another championship.
Earlier on Saturday, Rising Sun faced Williamsport in the 2A finals as they were looking to repeat as State Champions. Facing elimination and match point four times, the Tigers reached down and found the resolve to win the third set 31-29 in an epic battle. That was just the start, as Rising Sun would continue the comeback and force a fifth and final set, only to fall short.
“If you’re going to play a state championship match, that’s what you want to see,” said Rising Sun Head Coach Rich Wilson in a post match press conference as he tried to hold back tears. “I have to say I’m proud of my kids. Down 2-0, never gave up, came back in the third, came back in the fourth and a seesaw fifth. A couple of points here, a couple of breaks there, in this kind of match, that’s all it takes. So, hat’s off to Williamsport.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Tigers and the Panthers and depending on which coach you ask, they might tell you their loss was tougher.
Rising Sun held a seven point lead in the first set against Williamsport, but surrendered that lead and went on the lose the opener 25-23. They lost the next set 25-18 and found themselves in the unenviable position of needing to win three sets in a row to repeat as champions.
The Tigers rode the momentum of the third set win all the way to a 9-8 lead in the deciding set and it looked as if Rising Sun might pull of the improbable comeback. Williamsport answered with back to back points to regain the lead and went on to finish out the match 25-23, 25-18, 29-31, 18-25, 15-11 for the title.
“I can’t say enough about these kids. The four years I’ve coached them have been some of the best years of my life,” said Wilson. “I’ll be sad to see them go, maybe I’ll follow them to college. Four points, shame we have to play 2 1/2 hours and it is a 4-point game.”
Perryville came into their final with a completely different perspective. As the announcer read of the accomplishments of Smithsburg, the feeling in Ritchie Coliseum was very much one of David versus Goliath. With the backdrop of the aged building with industrial tiles and patina-darkened skylights inviting in not nearly enough light for game floor below, it almost felt like a scene from Hoosiers. No one expected the Panthers to win. They hadn’t won a single set in three previous matchups against the Leopards.
When Perryville dropped the opening set, it seemed as if Smithsburg was well on their way to a straight set win again, only no one bothered to tell the Panthers. Building off a rally in the opener, Perryville blitzed Smithsburg 25-13 in the second set and rode that wave all the way to a 24-20 lead in the third set.
For those 45 minutes, it looked like David might beat Goliath. It was Hoosiers. The Panthers looked like winners against the team who always crushed their State Championship dreams.
It was just not meant to be this year either for Perryville. There is a reason Smithsburg has won so many titles. They dug deep and served out the match for a 26-24 win. The looks on the Panther’s faces told the story. That six point swing was the dagger that did them in.
The final fourth set was just a formality. Perryville kept it close, but the spark that brought them to the brink of a 2-1 set led was gone.
“I think we played as well as we’ve played in years. I think the end of that third set when we just let them score, I think it was like six points in a row, I think that was the momentum shift that they needed and they finished out the fourth set,” said Borelli. “I think if we had finished out that third set, I think we would’ve won in four. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way, but I’m proud of our effort tonight. I’m proud of how we played and just disappointed in how it ended.”