The Falcons beat Mentor in two sets to advance to the regional championship match.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
HUDSON -- Block 'em out.
If there was one thing that the Austintown Fitch High volleyball team did especially well Wednesday night, it was block out.
Rowdy Mentor fans? Tournament pressures? Balls flying from Cardinal players?
Block 'em out.
The strategy worked -- Fitch beat Mentor 15-10, 15-8 at Hudson High School, advancing to the regional final against Solon at 4 p.m. Saturday.
"We get hands on ball," said Fitch coach Tom Case. "We got a few more blocks than they did tonight and we hit the ball well."
Fitch went up 4-0 in the first game but Mentor responded with a 7-1 run, highlighted by five points from Cardinal senior Jennifer Budziak, to take the lead. Fitch scored the next eight points, including six from junior Katie McDermott, before Mentor was able to regain some momentum. The Cardinals closed to 13-10 behind a rowdy Mentor crowd.
The Falcons didn't let that bother them.
"When a game's that close," said senior Ashlee Lemke, "you've got to block 'em out."
Forced sideout: Fitch did -- regrouping to force a sideout. Senior Jessica DiCarlo then scored the final two points to put the game away.
"That's exactly it -- we regrouped," said Case. "Our defense picked us up and nothing hit the floor."
The Falcons (23-3) took an 8-0 lead to start the second game but Mentor rallied to cut the lead to 9-5 as Fitch struggled with its serving.
"We got a little greedy," said Case. "Sometimes we think we can serve the next seven points on one play."
Fitch calmed down, as Lemke, DiCarlo and senior Megan Casey combined for the final seven points.
"We're not trying to get an ace, we were just trying to get the ball over the net," said DiCarlo. "When the game's close, you can't just serve your hardest."
Sophomore Maggie Case led Fitch with nine points, 15 kills, 21 digs and four blocks. Junior Katie McDermott had seven points, five kills, nine digs and three blocks and DiCarlo added six points, four kills, seven digs and a block. Sophomore Stacie Mang had 25 assists.
"The story of this game was blocking," said Mentor coach Richard Woodman. "Our inability to get hands on ball was the difference."
Size discrepancy: Mentor's main problem was size. With the exception of 6-foot-5 freshman Megan Skouby, no starter on the Cardinals' team was taller than 5-8.
"One of our objectives was to get the ball to Megan," said Woodman. "We got the ball to her, but we struggled when she came out. I think she was on the bench during their [8-0] run in the first game."
Skouby finished with nine kills and four blocks. Budziak led the Cardinals (19-8) with eight points.
Solon beat North Canton Hoover 17-15, 15-8 in the first game.
Fitch and Mentor each lost to Solon in last year's regional tournament. The Falcons beat the Comets in three games at Solon earlier this year, 15-13, 10-15, 15-10.
"They're a very good team," said Case. "But we beat them in their place this year. Our kids know we can play with them."