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Panther Valley holds off Marian

This one nearly got away.

One game away from victory and holding a commanding lead in the eventual clincher, Panther Valley’s volleyball team looked assured of a celebration against rival Marian.

The Panthers were dancing to the beat of their own drum in this Schuylkill Girls Volleyball Division 3 matchup Tuesday evening.

Panther Valley had won two of the first three games and was leading 20-6 in game four.

But strange things tend to happen in sports, and for a short time it looked like this might be one of those instances as the Fillies rallied courageously.

The Panthers pulled themselves together just in time, however, to close out the 25-20, 16-25, 25-22, 25-22 victory.

“That last game we got a little comfy,” said Panther Valley coach Emilie Baker, who used a pair of timeouts to try and quell Marian’s momentum. “The players said to me ‘oh, we were up by so many.’ But Marian is the type of team that is going to fight to the end, and I just told our girls we had to do the same thing.”

The Panthers were pure perfection - or close to it - early in game four as they jumped in front 11-2. The lead grew to 20-6, and then 22-7.

But at that point, the seemingly free-falling Fillies were about to turn the tables. They strung together a rally of nine straight points with Megan Reaman in serve, and before the Panthers knew it the game and the match were in doubt.

That’s when good teams and great players step up, however, and that’s exactly what Panther Valley did.

With the Fillies within a couple of points of forcing a fifth and deciding game, the Panthers regrouped and closed out the match.

“That was absolutely a thrilling match to watch,” said Marian coach Maria Serina. “I’m not happy with the outcome or the deficit we found ourselves in during game four, but it was a phenomenal run by our girls to get back into it, and I’m proud of how we never quit.”

The Panthers won the opening game by slowly building momentum. They grabbed leads of 14-11 and 20-17, before Natalie Vermillion eventually finished off the 25-20 win with the final few points from the service line.

Marian flipped the tables in the second game. Holding a scant 15-14 lead, the Fillies used three aces from Jenna Goff to take control and pull away for a 25-16 victory.

The crucial third game saw the teams tied at 20-20, and 22-22 before the Panthers pulled out the 25-22 win behind huge service points from Maddison Maynard and Riley McArdle.

That set the stage for the wild and furious final game.

“Fortunately, we got the momentum early in the fourth game, and we had enough cushion to withstand Marian’s rally,” Baker said. “We hung on and found a way to get the win.”

LOUD AND BOISTEROUS … The gym was nearly packed as both teams had huge followings. The din was deafening at times.

BY THE NUMBERS … For Panther Valley, Vermillion had two aces, 10 kills, six digs; McArdle registered six aces nine kills and seven digs, and Orsulak had five aces, five kills and 11 digs. Marian was led by Julia Meiss with 26 assists and seven digs; Megan Paisley with 15 kills, 15 digs and three aces; Fatikha Tikhtova with eight kills; and Abby Kluck and Reaman with 13 digs each.

COMING UP BIG … Baker pointed to clutch performances from Emma Dacey, Maynard and freshman Morgan Orsulak in support of stat leaders McArdle and Vermilion.

JV … Marian did get a piece of the pie winning a thriller in the opener, 2-1.

Panther Valley's Morgan Orsulak (right) sets the ball for teammate Maddison Maynard (17) as Marian's Julia Meiss (5) and Gianna Griguoli (2) wait to defend. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS