MINERSVILLE - Back when the season first began, Mike Morrison had little hope that his Holy Redeemer volleyball team would travel to the state semifinal round.
“I never even imagined getting this far when I started playing early on,” Morrison said.
How could he?
The last District 2 boys team to make it to the PIAA finals came when the Tunkhannock Tigers won the state title in 1972.
Now Holy Redeemer has a chance to join them.
Morrison, Mike Prociak and Brendan Leahigh all came up big at key moments Saturday as the Royals roared back from two early deficits to maul Manheim Central, 25-18, 25-22, 25-12 in a PIAA quarterfinal match at Minersville High School.
“We realized this was a big feat for District 2,” said Prociak, who slammed home 12 kills and two blocks.
Long-time Holy Redeemer and Bishop Hoban coach Jack Kablick can’t remember a District 2 team making the state semifinal round for at least 20 years - although the state playoff format was changed from an early round-robin tournament to one-on-one matchups from the start this season.
“It feels fantastic,” Kablick said.
For a while, it felt a little tense to the Royals, who will face York area power Northeastern at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Minersville High School.
Redeemer fell behind 12-10 in the first game and trailed 22-19 late in the second game before staging comebacks to take both games while getting off to slow starts in both.
“We always do,” Kablick shrugged. “We’re considering giving the other team four points and then starting the game. We always talk about starting quick, but it never happens.”
It so happened the Royals just needed a little push to hit high gear.
Jeremy Myslowski served four consecutive points and Morrison made a couple momentum-swinging kills as the Royals recovered to take control of the first game, 14-12.
“We never plan to fall behind, ever,” Leahigh said. “When we do, we rely on our seniors. We really don’t get nervous. Intensity is a phenomenal part of volleyball. Intensity is what really swings the game.”
In a tense second game, Leahigh served five straight points to finish the game and turn a two-point Redeemer deficit into a 25-22 victory.
“I try and always work on my serving,” said Leahigh, who served nine points and made eight kills in the match. “I’ve always been a pretty talented hitter. I always try to practice what I serve.
“That paid off today.”
Prociak’s hard spikes paid dividends for Redeemer in that second game, which the Barons maintained control of until late.
A handful of key kills from Prociak swung the game in Redeemer’s favor, as the 6-foot-7 middle hitter walloped home five points - including one that pulled the Royals within 22-21 and another which closed the second game.
“We just stayed calm,” said Prociak, who finished with 12 kills and two blocks. “Everyone just really played together. We really just wanted to take it as any other game. I feel comfortable taking it whenever we need an important point.”
The most critical part of Redeemer’s victory, though, once again rested on Morrison’s shoulders.
Although his 13 kills - including a few nifty dinks - provided the Royals with crucial points, his defense is what did the trick.
Redeemer matched their 6-7 defensive ace on Manheim Central’s hard-hitting and league MVP Josiah Hershberger, opening the floor for the rest of the Royals to shine.
“A lot of people like the hard hits,” Morrison said. “But defense is a big part of the game, too. We try to be as well-rounded players as we can be.”
Once again, that had a way of flattening another talented state opponent.
“When you’ve got Mike Morrison kind of containing their best and biggest players, that frees up Prociak,” Kablick said.
The Royals closed their victory with a run of nine consecutive service points from Alex Kotch, including two Prociak kills as Redeemer grabbed a 24-12 lead.
“I could kind of sense them breaking,” Leahigh said.
Meanwhile, the Royals made a break for the state semifinals.
“They wanted to come out and really put it to us,” Leahigh said. “But we executed our gameplan. The senior leadership combined with the talent of the underclassmen really came through.”
Holy Redeemer: Mike Morrison 13 kills, 2 blocks, Mike Prociak 12 kills, 2 blocks, Brendan Leahigh 8 kills, 9 service points, Jeremy Myslowski 20 assists, 9 service points, Alex Kotch 15 service points, 5 digs.