March 17, 2018

Buckeyes Escape Happy Valley with Five-Set Win


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Match point for Penn State was met with a Buckeye termination on four different occasions (three kills and an ace) in Set 4 as Ohio State maintained a pulse allowing for a 28-26 rejuvenation sending the match into a decisive fifth frame. The No. 9 Buckeyes closed it out from there with a 15-12 clincher (25-18, 21-25, 23-25, 28-26, 15-12).

Ohio State owned a .365 to .243 attacking percentage edge but leveled the playing field by committing 33 serving blunders. Huge nights from Nicolas Szerszen and Nick Laffin lifted the Buckeyes to victory despite the serving issues. Szerszen compiled 22 kills on 30 attempts with just four errors, good for a sizzling .600 hitting clip. Meanwhile, Laffin was involved less often but delivered when called upon with eight kills on 10 error-free attempts (.800). Sanil Thomas came up one assist shy of a 12-assist-per-set average, dishing out 59 helpers in total. He added 10 digs for a double-double.

The Thomas-steered offense hummed along for most of the evening, posting set attacking efficiencies of .320, .400, .269, .438 and .385.

Locked at 8-8 in the opening frame, Ohio State corralled seven of the next eight tallies to go ahead for good at 15-9. The Buckeyes would ultimately take it 25-18.

Penn State surged out to an 8-3 upper hand in the second stanza and left little doubt in leading the entire way of a 25-21 equalizer. Set number three took a much different trajectory, tightly contested throughout, but washed out as another Nittany Lion triumph (25-23). Ohio State had momentarily knotted the score at 24-24 on a service ace from Leeson. The play was reviewed, however, and a replay was deemed appropriate. The do-over serve resulted in an error and a 2-1 set lead for Penn State.

The largest gap of Set 4 was three points and that only occurred at 13-10 in favor of Penn State. The Buckeyes erased the deficit quickly at 19-19, yet later faced back-to-back PSU match point opportunities trailing 24-22. Szerszen connected for a kill and Laffin offered an ace encore to pull even, 24-24. Two points later it was Leeson answering the bell with a match-extending kill to make it 25-25 and Szerszen would do it again to spoil Penn State’s fourth attempt at ending the night. Tied 26-26 following the Szerszen put away, Maxime Hervoir presented Ohio State’s first crack at set point. Penn State’s Calvin Mende then missed the mark on an attack and the Buckeyes raced to the fifth with a 28-26 `W’ in-hand.

Ohio State kept bringing it offensively in the fifth, firing away from all angles. The final dagger came from fifth-year senior Laffin, bouncing his eighth kills for a 15-12 winner.

The Scarlet & Gray are back it again Saturday evening at 7 p.m. ET vs. Saint Francis in Loretto, Pa.