Derry Area boys volleyball coach Shawn Spencer couldn't have asked for a better scenario.
Derry held a 22-19 lead against two-time defending champion Ambridge Area in the first game of the WPIAL Class AA title match that took place last Thursday at Baldwin High School.
The Trojans also held a commanding 23-16 lead in the second game. But neither lead was enough to hold off the Bridgers, as Ambridge rallied to win both games and eventually sweep Spencer's squad.
"I'm disappointed that we weren't able to win at least one game," Spencer said. "We definitely should have won at least one of the first two games. They just executed better than we did at the end. Give them credit for coming back in both games."
Ambridge rallied in the first set to pull out a hotly contested 29-27 victory. The second game was even more painful, as the Bridgers scored nine of the last 10 points to record a 26-24 victory.
"We were doing some dumb things mentally," Spencer said. "We just couldn't get into a rhythm with our hitting. All of our hitters came through at times, but we made too many errors at critical times."
The third and final game was also close, as the two teams were tied at 17-17, but Ambridge again took charge at the end and recorded a 25-20 victory.
"We weren't able to finish," Spencer said.
"We had our chances, but for whatever reason we couldn't finish."
The same thing happened when Ambridge traveled to Derry for a regular-season non-section match. Ambridge posted a 3-0 victory, but all three games were close.
"We led in the second and third games, but couldn't finish them off," Spencer said. "We were serving for game point in those games, but couldn't close out either game. It's so frustrating to be so close in both matches and have nothing to show for it."
Making the loss even more frustrating is the fact that Derry has lost in the title match four of the past five years. All four losses were to Ambridge.
"It may be frustrating, but I'm very proud of what our teams have been able to accomplish," Spencer said. "Advancing to the [WPIAL] title match four times in five years is quite an accomplishment."
Derry also earned its fifth PIAA berth in six years by placing among the top three in the WPIAL. The Trojans were scheduled to play District 6 champion Bishop Guilfoyle Wednesday night in the first round of the PIAA Class AA tournament.
"We have to bounce back from this and face a very good Bishop Guilfoyle team in the first round," Spencer said. "And we don't have much time to prepare for them."
The winner will face either District 12 champion Engineering & Science of Philadelphia or District 3 third-place finisher Schuylkill Valley in the quarterfinals.
"We would love to get a rematch with Ambridge, but that wouldn't come until the semifinals," Spencer said. "We have to take it one match at a time and hope for the rematch."
Derry had seven players recognized on the all-WPIAL Class AA team, which was announced after the title match.
Senior outside hitters Matt Vasinko and Ethan Huston were voted to the first team, along with senior libero Izaak Fulmer-Moffat.
Junior middle hitter Ian Malis, junior setter Jake Zemba, and junior outside hitter Nico Latta were second-team selections. Junior middle hitter Troy Balega was recognized on the third team.