JACKSON TWP — The Seneca Valley and Butler boys volleyball teams are accustomed to pressure.
They have been playing under it for weeks now.
When those two teams met Thursday night at Seneca Valley High School, the pressure was even more intense.
The winner moved on to the WPIAL volleyball playoffs. The loser went home.
The Raiders were able to handle that pressure a bit better, eking out the first two games before dominating the third on the way to a 3-0 win over the Golden Tornado.
“They knew it was a win we’re in and lose we go home situation, so they stepped up to the occasion,” said first-year Seneca Valley coach Dan Follett. “They looked very good tonight. If I were other teams, I’d be very fearful of playing us in the playoffs because we’re starting to peek at the right moment.”
It wasn’t easy, though, as Butler was also facing an elimination match.
The Golden Tornado (7-7, 6-6) fell behind in the first game 14-10 and 19-16 before launching a comeback to take a 23-22 lead.
Seneca Valley (6-6, 6-6), though, scored four of the final five points to take the game 26-24.
The second game was much of the same until a pivotal moment late.
Butler thought it had gone up 22-21, but the Golden Tornado were called for an illegal substitution after a long debate between the officials and the coaches.
The error turned a one-point advantage into a one-point deficit. Seneca Valley went on to win the next three points for a 25-21 victory in the second game.
“That was just one point,” said Butler coach Lew Liparulo. “That was my error. We put in some guys who had not had a lot of varsity experience and we had to sub in the original player first (before inserting the libero) and we didn’t do it.
“After seven minutes of them arguing, I don’t think anyone had any momentum,” Liparulo added.
Follett didn’t catch the error immediately. Once he did, he informed the officials.
“It was an illegal switch with the libero,” Follett said. “They put (the libero) in without substituting the original guy out. Point our way, which gave us an advantage. We still had to go out and win those last few points and we did, which I was happy about.”
Seneca Valley never trailed in the third game, leading 7-2 and 18-11 before cruising to a 25-18 victory.
Now Seneca Valley will head into the playoffs battle tested.
“We’ll take any little advantage we can get,” Follett said. “I’ll be the first to tell you we’re not the most talented team, but my guys play with a lot of energy and a lot of heart.”
Patrick Messmer led Seneca Valley with 10 kills. Alex Snyder added six and Mike Jones five in what was a very balanced attack for the Raiders.
Messmer also had five blocks.
Matt Huey led Butler with 14 kills. Huey, a junior, was a force at the net for the Golden Tornado all season.
“We didn’t get the ball to him enough,” Liparulo said. “Sometimes the passes were tight on the net, which limited what we could do.
“The kids were wonderful,” Liparulo added. “They played hard. They worked hard all year.”