D2 VOLLEYBALL: Blue Ridge responds to challenge from Dallas to reach Class 2A final; Holy Redeemer also advances

NEW MILFORD — There haven't been too many times in recent years when Blue Ridge boys volleyball coach Lori Zick had to motivate and refocus her players.

After a nonchalant, error-filled second set, she gave a spirited pep talk filled with raw emotion, reminding the Raiders that they were locked in a playoff battle and the consequences of what they faced in this elimination game.

Her message got through as top-seeded Blue Ridge returned to the court re-energized, and earned a 3-1 (25-17, 24-26, 25-20, 25-16) win over No. 4 Dallas on Tuesday in the District 2 Class 2A semifinals. The Raiders play No. 2 Holy Redeemer at Scranton High School in the second game of a doubleheader on Thursday.

Blue Ridge (18-1) also clinched a berth in the PIAA Class 2A playoffs.

"Our coach told us that we needed to focus up and start playing our game," Blue Ridge senior Nick Laude said. "We were a much better team than that. We listened to her and really started swinging."

This senior group at Blue Ridge has had remarkable success under the guidance of Zick.

They have invested a great deal of time and made a commitment to be a worthy defending champion this season. The Raiders started with 15 straight wins where they did not lose a set.

Then, Holy Redeemer stunned them with a 3-2 win on May 6 in a nonleague game.

Blue Ridge recovered with a win over Wilkes-Barre Area that secured the No. 1 seed. The Raiders won 3-0 in the first round over Forest City and earned the right to host the semifinals.

Holy Redeemer (16-2) did its part in the first game by beating Mountain View 3-0, with Blue Ridge watching.

The Raiders jumped out to a 1-0 lead over Dallas by taking the first set, 25-17. Connor Cranage had seven of his game-high 28 kills in the set.

But in the second, Dallas showed it wouldn't go away quietly.

Carter Brunn and Cameron Faux excited the Dallas fans and their teammates. They took advantage of some uncharacteristic miscues by the Raiders and knotted up the match overall, 1-1.

That's when Zick decided her team, which had won 39 of their last 41 games coming into the semifinal, needed a boost.

Blue Ridge responded.

Cranage unleashed a furious attack with three straight powerful kills that provided the Raiders with a 19-13 cushion in the third set. Aiden Glasgow had an ace, and Cranage helped stave off any comeback hopes with a pair of kills and an ace down the stretch in a 25-20 win.

"We were tipping a lot, and I felt we weren't being aggressive enough," Cranage said. "We were on our heels rather than attacking. The coach said we had to hit. I felt that I had to lead in that effort, and when we do that and we are in a system, we are tough to beat."

Blue Ridge maintained its momentum, Glasgow helped build an early 6-3 lead, and Laude supplied one of his nine kills to build the advantage to 10-5.

From there, the Raiders were much sharper and closed it out with a 25-16 win.

"After we lost that set, Coach ripped into us, and that has only happened a couple of times, but when it does, we really respond," said Gallagher. who had 41 assists. "It gets us going, and we turned our play around. Our energy was brought up, and we needed to stay aggressive."

Brunn led Dallas with 15 kills and 10 digs; Faux had 14 kills, including the 500th of his career, and 13 digs; Christopher Miller had 12 assists; and Luke Nicolai earned his 500th assist this season.

Dallas (13-6) 17 26 20 16

Blue Ridge (18-1) 25 24 25 25

Holy Redeemer 3, Mountain View 0

Joshua Rocha had 13 kills and three blocks, and Johnnathan Rocha added eight kills and eight blocks, as the Royals won their sixth straight game and advanced to the District 2 Class 2A final rematch with Blue Ridge.

George Sabatini had 10 kills, Jack Wasiakowski ran the offense with 25 assists, and Hayden Fleegle had 17 service points for Holy Redeemer, which also secured a berth in the PIAA playoffs.

Mountain View (14-6) 13 13 17

Holy Redeemer (16-2) 25 25 25