Holding On: Keystone Guts Out Five-Set Win Over Punxsutawney to Reach Class 2A Final Again

KNOX, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Members of the Keystone volleyball team huddled after the fourth set.

Their teammate, Cameron Peters, had just suffered what looked like a serious hip injury. They had also watched a two-set lead against Punxsutawney evaporate into a 2-2 deadlock.

It was a watershed moment for the Panthers.

Fight back or have the season drain away.

(Pictured above: Leah Exley, left, and Emma Plummer)

“I just knew we weren’t gonna go down like that,” said senior Emma Plummer. “We weren’t going to lose like that.”

That determination paid off for Keystone. The Panthers played the fifth set like they had the first two — confident, quick, and powerful — finally finishing off Punxsutawney for a 25-16, 25-15, 22-25, 23-25, 15-7 win in the District 9 Class 2A semifinals at home on Wednesday night.

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“The more we let them hang around, the more confidence they got on their part,” said Keystone coach Bryan Mong. “If you play with confidence, that’s a heck of a thing. Punxsy is a good team. We’re in the playoff. We should expect that teams aren’t gonna lie down after two wins.”

The Chucks certainly didn’t.

Keystone had its way with Punxsutawney in the first two sets, using a prodigious 11-0 run in the first game to build a comfortable lead and pulled away again in the second with an 8-0 stretch on the way to going up 2-0.

Then, things changed.

“Just like that,” said Leah Exley, snapping her fingers. “I think we just got a little too comfortable. We finally sat back and realized, ‘Oh, man, we can’t do that.’ Obviously, you see what happened. We needed to play how we did in the first set.”

Keystone also had to deal with the injury to Peters, who crashed to the floor awkwardly and remained in a twisted position as she screamed and cried out in pain.

As a hush fell over the Keystone gym, she was attended to by Punxsutawney trainers for several minutes before being helped off the floor.

“That was a hustle injury,” Mong said. “She’s all heart and she went to dive to make a play and fell on her hip. She’s a tough kid and for her to be crying and saying she couldn’t play, I knew it had to be serious.”

It was a deep bruise and she returned to the bench at the end of the fourth set to give her support.

“It was already bruised when a trainer was looking at her,” Mong said. “That’s tough when you have that big lull and you see one of your teammates down like that.”

Keystone made a run toward the end of that fourth set, closing to 24-23 before falling.

It was a little momentum heading into the fifth. The Panthers were grateful for it and happy it carried over into the make-or-break game.

In the fifth set, Keystone got back to the things that worked so well early — blocking, serving and keeping rallies alive.

Plummer had two kills in the final set, including the match-winner that capped an 8-1 run to close out the Chucks.

“We had all the momentum in that set,” Plummer said.

Exley led the way for Keystone with 17 kills, 19 digs, and three aces. Sydney Bell pitched in nine kills and three aces, and Natalie Bowser had 22 assists, five blocks, and seven kills.

For Punxsutawney, the loss was tough to swallow.

But coach Glenn Good was proud of how his team rallied.

“We really struggled in those first couple of sets and we just couldn’t get over that hump of whatever it was that we were doing,” Good said. “We were totally in a funk. They fought hard. They played hard. We have seven seniors who are going out now and hopefully they’ll pass along that fighting attitude to the group of kids who are coming back and who are going to be playing next year.”

Ciara Toven led the Chucks with 10 kills and four aces. Danielle Griebel had 26 assists and 26 digs.

Keystone (19-2) will be playing for another D9 title next week.

The Panthers won the championship last season and were also in the final in 2020, falling to Redbank Valley.

Keystone will take on Kane, which swept Cranberry in the other quarterfinal match on Wednesday, for the crown on November 2 at a site and time to be determined.

“We have some time to prepare,” Mong said. “We’ll look at some film. We haven’t seen Kane this year, so we’re gonna have to do a little studying on how we want to handle them and to see who their key players are. We have a week to prepare, so if they’re not ready, then that’s on me.”

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