UNIVERSITY PARK — Losing in the PIAA Class AA final for a second year in a row didn’t sit well with Ambridge senior Lee Smith.
“It’s runner-up,” Smith said. “No one likes to be second place.”
Smith wasn’t in any mood to celebrate the Ambridge boys volleyball team’s second consecutive state runner-up finish following a straight-sets loss to Northeastern on Saturday inside Penn State’s Rec Hall.
Both losses have been to the District 3-champion Bobcats. Set scores this time around were 25-20, 25-15 and 25-14.
“Northeastern came out to play. I don’t think we did at all, really,” Smith said. “We were in that first set, but losing that really put a downer on us.
“Coming into the second, I think the team just slowly deteriorated. What are you going to do?”
Ambridge fell to 1-3 in state finals, its only title coming in 2009.
Northeastern, which did not drop a set in the state tournament, won its third PIAA championship since 2010.
“I guess I can officially say that we became the best team in the state over the course of the past month,” Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said. “Only one team can say that. We’ve been dominant in almost every situation.”
Ambridge (15-3) beat Derry in three sets to win a third consecutive WPIAL Class AA title this season and sixth in the past seven years, but Ambridge had no answer for Northeastern outside hitter Reese Devilbiss.
A 6-foot-2 sophomore, Devilbiss finished with 16 kills, including seven in the final set.
“We all worked hard the entire season because we knew we wanted to get back to this spot because of how good it feels,” Devilbiss said. “Especially for the seniors, to send them off with a gold medal is a good feeling.”
Devilbiss added two aces, three blocks and three digs. Bobcats setter Luke Braswell had 32 assists. Opposite-side hitter Philip White added 11 kills.
Smith, a 6-foot-5 senior outside hitter who will play at Penn State in the fall, led Ambridge with 12 kills. Setter Aaron Mueller had 24 assists and four digs. Outside hitter Brandon Buck and opposite Dan Zajac tallied six kills apiece.
The latest Ambridge led in any of the three sets Saturday was 10-9, achieved in the first and the second.
The first set was tied 11-11 before Northeastern (22-2) used a 6-0 run to take a 17-11 lead. Devilbiss had two kills and a block during the stretch.
Ambridge cut it to 21-19, but a kill from Northeastern middle hitter Casey Winand helped the Bobcats score four of the final five points to end it.
Another 11-all tie produced the decisive moment in the second — a 6-1 run that included two more blocks and another kill from Devilbiss.
The third set was all Devilbiss. He had kills on four of six points to produce an 18-9 lead, the final one after Ambridge seemingly had gotten a big block on him.
“They’re such a great team,” Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. “We fought as hard as we could and kept battling every point. I’m proud of our guys. They didn’t stop. But it was just too much.”