West Xtra: Ambridge makes way through troubled water

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Ambridge's comeback in the WPIAL Class AA title match may not have been as impressive as the Bridgers' improbable comeback in 2012, but it still resulted in a championship.

In 2012, Ambridge rallied from a 2-0 deficit with three consecutive victories to defeat Derry Area in the WPIAL title match.

Fast forward to last Thursday at Baldwin High School, and the two teams were once again facing off for the WPIAL title.

"It wasn't like it was two years ago when we came back after losing the first two sets," said Ambridge senior Dan Zajac after collecting his third WPIAL gold medal. "We just refocused and worked on our gameplan. The key was that we didn't panic."

Derry held a 22-19 advantage in the first set and was serving for game point with a 24-22 lead, but Ambridge battled back to pull out a 29-27 victory.

"I tell the guys all the time to just worry about the next serve," Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. "It doesn't matter what the score is, just worry about the next serve. When you're working hard, good things will happen."

The same thing happened in the second set, but Derry built an even bigger lead, 23-17. Ambridge scored nine of the final 10 points to pull out a 26-24 win and take a commanding 2-0 lead.

"That great comeback in the second set really shows how we work together as a team," said senior outside hitter Brandon Buck, who recorded 16 kills. "We never give up, regardless of the score. ... You can always come back and win if you work together as a team."

"To come back from all that is pretty ridiculous," said outside hitter Lee Smith, a Penn State recruit who led the Bridgers with 18 kills. "Our team just played together when we really needed to."

The third set was also close, as the two teams traded points until the score was tied, 17-17. At that point, the Bridgers outscored the Trojans, 8-3, to pull out a 25-20 victory.

"I have so much faith in our players," said setter Aaron Mueller, who recorded 41 assists for the Bridgers. "No matter who we are playing, I believe we can come back and win, no matter what the score is."

The victory earned Ambridge its third consecutive WPIAL Class AA title and sixth in seven years.

"Three times in a row. It's an amazing feeling," Smith said. "But I don't think anything can match our first title. We had to come back from a 2-0 deficit to beat them."

The key to Ambridge's victory was its balanced offense and opportunistic defense.

"We have so many weapons," Buck said. "They can't block all three of us. If I can't get a kill, Lee will. If Lee can't get the kill, Dan will. And if Lee and Dan can't get the kill, it's up to me."

Mueller did a great job of mixing up the sets.

"My goal is to not let the opponent know who I am setting," Mueller said. "I like to mix it up. I always want to keep them off guard."

Mueller and his teammates will now have a chance to reach their ultimate goal of winning a PIAA title. The Bridgers advanced to the title match last year before losing to District 3 champion Northeastern.

"I want that gold medal," Zajac said. "We're all in it for the same reason. We want to win the PIAA title."

Ambridge began its PIAA trek Wednesday night with a first-round match against District 10 runner-up Saegertown.

"We're still not done," Smith said.

"Our goal is to make it back to the finals and come home with a gold medal."

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