WILKES-BARRE – Nanticoke Area fought, battled and clawed.
The Trojans just didn’t give themselves a chance for any late-match magic.
North Pocono built big leads in all three sets, pulling away for a 3-0 victory in the District 2 Class 2A semifinals at Holy Redeemer High School.
Match scores were 25-16, 25-13 and 25-17.
Pocono advances into Thursday’s championship at Lake-Lehman against top-seeded Holy Redeemer, a 3-0 winner over Coughlin in the other semifinal. Nanticoke plays the Crusaders in the district third-place match.
Since District 2 sends four teams to states, all of the semifinalists move into the PIAA tournament, which begins next week.
“This was a huge game for us,” NP senior hitter Eric Kramer said. “We all knew that our goal was to get to a district championship game and have a chance to win it. We saw this as our way to get there. We played really great defense, and passed well. This was a good team win.”
Debbie Gavin didn’t think too long.
The veteran Nanticoke coach knew exactly what unraveled her squad.
“Too many free balls. And our passing,” she said.
She was right on both accounts.
The big runs didn’t help the cause, either.
Pocono jumped out to a 9-2 lead in the opening stanza, and held a 12-point advantage at one point.
Same thing in the second. This time, it was a 12-2 run to broke open a one-point game.
“We weren’t getting the ball to our setter, and we gave them too many free balls,” Gavin said. “And they took advantage of those free balls. Their passing was perfection today. The ball went right back to their setter and they put a play down.”
And just when it looked like Nanticoke was priming for a push back in the match, Kramer took over.
The outside hitter found all spots of the court, ripping off shots to the corners, toward the back line and even short floaters over two blockers. He finished with a game-high 18 kills, including a hard, cross-court bullet to seal the 3-0 victory.
It’s what you expect from a senior in his final playoff push.
“We knew how physical Nanticoke was the last time we played them,” Kramer said. “We knew that we couldn’t overlook them. Being a senior, I knew how important this game was to me.”
Juniors Robert Burke and Matt Winters tried to rally the Trojans in the final set, combining for five kills, but it was another drought – a 10-5 NP run – that gave the No. 3 seed a seven-point edge.
“I think there were some nerves,” Gavin said. “I’ve seen them play more relaxed, but not today. The nucleus of our team is back next year. It’s the first time that our boys have had a chance to advance into states. We are really happy for that. We’ll work hard against Coughlin on Thursday, and hopefully, clean up some of our passing.”
Burke had eight kills to pace Nanticoke, while sophomore setter Eddie Lukowski added 16 assists.
In the regular season, Redeemer defeated North Pocono, 3-2. The Royals went on to win the Wyoming Valley Conference title, while the setback was Pocono’s lone loss in conference play.
“It’s not about revenge. It’s about fulfilling our team goals,” Kramer said about another matchup with Holy Redeemer. “Hopefully, we can have a different result from last year’s district championship when we lost to them. We are going to be ready, fundamentally sound and pumped up for another chance.”
North Pocono 3, Nanticoke Area 0
Nanticoke: Robert Burke 8 kills; Matt Winters 4 kills; Eddie Lukowski 16 assists.
North Pocono: Eric Kramer 18 kills; Cory Rinaldi 11 kills; Matthew Morris 33 assists.