WEST HANOVER TWP. — The 10th-seed Mechanicsburg Wildcats won their first District 3 game ever Thursday night as they knocked off Central Dauphin in four games by scores of 34-32, 21-25, 25-23 and 28-26 at Central Dauphin High School.
The Wildcats (12-5) will move on to play at second-seed Hempfield on Monday at 7:30 p.m. The win guarantees the Wildcats at least two more matches in their attempt to get to the PIAA tournament.
“This was huge for us,” Mechanicsburg’s Gavin Gossage said. “We made districts our freshman year, but this was the first time we have won a game. Beating Central Dauphin is huge for us. We did what we did all season, kept balls in play and wait for the right situation.”
In Game 1, the two teams went back and forth with the Rams grabbing a six-point lead at 21-15 only to watch the Wildcats roll back into the game. Mechanicsburg knotted things up 23-23 and the squads went point for point to 32-32. Five game-point serves went into the net before Gossage got a clean hit and the next hit by the Rams went wide for the 34-32 Wildcats victory.
The Wildcats ran into a stretch where they had a tough time with the serve of John Frankford and fell back by six points. The Wildcats’ Brady Bortner had several big hits down the stretch to keep the game tied.
Central Dauphin rallied to grab Game 2, a game which the Wildcats led 12-7 behind the blocking of Adam Casper. The Rams were able to take advantage of several misplays to put the game away. Eric Heronimus, Phoenix Stebbins, and James Buatti were the big hitters for the Rams. Heronimus had seven hits from outside in the game.
“We knew they were a big outside-hitting team so we had to adjust our blocks for the outside,” Gossage said. “We are a strong middle-blocking team but we had to be quick on our feet to get the angle for the outside blocks. They are a very good team and we knew we would have to play well to beat them.”
Central Dauphin jumped out to a 10-4 lead in Game 3 and later led 14-11. The home team led 23-19 but the ‘Cats never gave up and used the hitting of Casper and several big blocks to rally for the 25-23 win.
“That has been our problem all season,” Rams coach Josh Breneman said. “We have no problem getting up five to six points, but we struggle to close out games. This is a senior-dominated team but we haven’t had that consistency this year to close out games.”
Central Dauphin led by five points three different times in Game 4, but the Wildcats rallied down 24-23 at game point to come back for the 28-26 fourth-game win to advance to the next round.
At 24-23, Jonah Steiner had a big hit for the Wildcats and later Bortner had a big hit to get the ‘Cats to 26-25. Heronimus tied the game with a hit off the block out of bounds, but a long hit by a Rams set the Wildcats up for victory and Gossage finished it off on a set by Jared Keul.
Keul was solid setting all positions in the contest. Caleb Clawser, Nick Moshgat, Nate Hopkins as libero and Michael Collotia contributed points for the Wildcats.
“This was big for us as aa school and as a team to beat Central Dauphin,” Wildcats coach Jake Heck said. “This was a first district win for us in maybe our biggest game ever. We played very well throughout the match and the kids battled to keep balls alive and in play. This was a great match for both teams.”