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Baldwin girls volleyball team captures WPIAL Class AAA championship

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randy jarosz | for trib total media
Baldwin outside hitter Mackenzie Voelker finished with 23 kills against North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class AAA championship match.
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randy jarosz | for trib total media
Mikaela Thorne, a right-side hitter, is one of five juniors in the starting lineup for the Baldwin girls' volleyball team.
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simply sisters photography | for trib total media
The Baldwin Lady Highlanders are No. 1 in WPIAL Class AAA girls' volleyball. Baldwin defeated North Allegheny, 3-2, Saturday at the WPIAL championships.

The Baldwin girls’ volleyball team threw a championship-style party Saturday night.

An RSVP wasn’t necessary, but the Baldwin High School gymnasium, none the less, was filled to capacity with a boisterous fan base.

The No. 2-seeded Lady Highlanders edged No. 8 North Allegeheny, 3-2, to win the WPIAL Class AAA championship.

The Lady Highlanders staged a dramatic rally to win the third set “in overtime” by a score of 18-16.

“This was a battle. I was very confident that we had a chance to win,” Chris Kelly, Baldwin’s head coach, said. “One thing that makes my team great is they play with the same heart and intensity no matter what the score is. They are not bothered by deficits, and don’t ease up when we are leading. It is an honor for me to coach for my alma mater.”

The Class AAA championship match was tense from start to finish, as Baldwin split the first four games by scores of 25-19, 17-25, 25-20, 18-25.

It is the 10th WPIAL title in girls’ volleyball in school history for Baldwin, and the first since 2003.

“You couldn’t ask for a tighter finish,” said Heidi Miller, NA’s head coach, following the match. “My kids are disappointed. It hurts, but I’m very proud of them.”

The Lady Highlanders won Game 1 thanks a torrid 9-4 run late in the set, including a 7-2 scoring spree at the end.

Maddi Sgattoni, a 5-foot-9 sophomore outside hitter, secured the final three exclamation points for Baldwin with two kills and a block at the net.

North Allegheny never trailed in the second game, as an early 7-0 scoring burst left the visitors with a comfortable cushion throughout the set.

It was another hard-fought tussle in Game 3, as Baldwin led early, NA then rallied, before the Lady Highlanders stretched an 18-16 lead to their final five-point victory.

Sgattoni and Mackenzie Voelker, a 5-10 junior outside hitter, did most of the damage offensively for the Lady Highlanders.

The talented tandem finished with 28 and 23 kills, respectively, in the match.

“Maddi and Mac combined for 51 kills. They combined for 12 kills in Game 5 alone,” Kelly said. “I can’t say enough about them. I would say that as a duo, they’re the two best outside hitters on any team in the WPIAL. They’re amazing. And for one to be a sophomore and one to be a junior, wow. They’re awesome.”

Game 4 was a ferocious exchange of power hitting by the two squads. It was close throughout, until North Allegheny expanded a 21-17 lead into a 25-18 victory.

Voelker propelled Baldwin in the fifth game, while Sgattoni complemented with an assortment of kills.

A Voelker slam made it 13-13, followed by a kill by 5-10 junior Sierra Colbert from her middle hitter position.

Baldwin secured 15-14, 16-15 and 17-16 advantages via Voelker and Sgattoni kills.

Hannah Scott, a diminutive 5-4 junior defensive specialist, finally served up the game-winner as a North Allegheny attack error ended the match.

“Game 5 was amazing. We were back and forth for the first half, and at one point NA was up 11-8,” Kelly said. “I didn’t think about it much at the time, but that was a crucial point.

“If NA scores there, it would have been 12-8 and that would have been tough to come back from — 11-9 is way different than 12-8 in a fifth set. We managed to win that point and the rest is history, I guess.”

Sgattoni and teammates celebrated in the Baldwin gym for several minutes before extending the celebration later at a local restaurant

“I’m so excited,” Sgattoni said. “I knew my team could pull it out; my team has so much confidence. I am so proud of my team; I had confidence we could do it. I think our hard work from coming back and winning the fifth game down 11-8 showed everyone that we are not only a good but a great team.

“The whole team went to eat at GiannaVia’s. I thought it was so much fun being with them as we still had so much energy and excitement from the game. Our parents, fans and coaches also came. Coach Kelly told us how proud he is of us, and overall it was a really fun evening.”

Along with Sgattoni, Voelker, Colbert and Scott, Baldwin’s starting lineup consists of three seniors in middle hitter Tori Sgattoni, defensive specialist Tori Dedig and libero Sarah Welsh; and juniors Mallory O’Brien, a setter, and Mikaela Thorne, a right-side hitting specialist.

“I believe my team did something most teams couldn’t do,” said Tori Sgattoni, Maddi’s older sister. “We were able to shake off the losses in the second and fourth games, and when we were down in the fifth game we didn’t get nervous and didn’t give up. We worked even harder to tie it up at 11-11, and then eventually pull ahead and win.

“The feeling of playing in our home gym with the most intense Game 1 (that) I have been in for the championship can never be beaten. I would not have wanted to celebrate a win like this unless it was with my teammates and coaches who have all worked hard all season. We wanted to win for each other, and seeing all the girls smiling and crying (with) happiness was the best reward and something we will remember for the rest of our lives.”

Kelly, who is assisted by Adam Foote and Katie Leaf, noted the contributions made by all nine Baldwin netters during the 2014 season:

• Maddi Sgattoni — “Maddi’s game is about power and athleticism. Last year, she was more one dimensional, playing only front row. Now she doesn’t leave the court. Her defense and serve-receive are really good. Maddi often has the big hit, the one that might get noticed by everybody in the gym.”

• Tori Sgattoni — “Tori’s game is probably more cerebral. As a senior, she has lots of experience and makes smart plays. She has to play differently since most middles she faces are taller than her. She’s adjusted her game so she can excel.”

• Mackenzie Voelker — “Mac’s our emotional leader. She’s our loudest one. A lot of girls aren’t that vocal; Mac definitely is for us.”

• Sierra Colbert — “Sierra’s a great athlete, she’s really quick, and she has natural jumping ability. I joke with her that she jumps like a boy. She jumps really well; she has hang time like a boy.”

• Tori Dedig — “Tori has an exceptionally good serve. She plays great defense for us. She was a middle hitter last year and we moved her to defense this year. That’s where she thrives.”

• Mallory O’Brien — “Mallory started last year as a sophomore, which was great for her. Mallory’s just relentless, and so consistent. She’s never too high and never too low. She doesn’t get enough credit.”

• Sarah Welsh — “I think Mallory O’Brien and Sarah are our toughest players. Sarah’s really tough; not a whole lot bothers her. She’s steady, and she’s really good at reading the other team’s hitters.”

• Mikaela Thorne — “Mikaela’s a right-side hitter and she’s very good at it. She just has a knack for finding the court. She has big hit after big hit.”

• Hannah Scott — “Hannah’s kind of similar to Tori Dedig. She plays great defense, and she picks up a lot of shots on the court. She saves us quite a bit.

“Her serve is really tough, too. She has a good float serve; it doesn’t spin.”

North Allegheny had a decisive height advantage on Baldwin. Four of NA’s front-row players are 6-foot or taller, including sophomore Lauren Swartz, a 6-4 outside hitter.

The Lady Tigers, who upset No. 1 Shaler and No. 4 Mt. Lebanon in the playoffs, also have five girls listed at 5-10 on their roster.

“North Allegheny is always good. They are tall and athletic,” Kelly said. “We tried to keep them off-balance. North Allegheny tipped an awful lot, maybe more than we expected. They played great, they made nothing easy for us. They’re here every year, and I was worried about that. Especially coming into the playoffs, because we hadn’t been in the playoffs the last two seasons.

“My girls have never been tested like this. For them to complete this and do it, it’s amazing. I feel blessed to coach a team like this. These girls are awesome. They stole the show.”

Meg Morniningstar, a 6-2 senior middle hitter, led North Allegheny with 16 kills.

Baldwin closed out its WPIAL season undefeated in match play at 19-0.

The Lady Highlanders won the Section 5-AAA crown with a 12-0 record, took first place in three invitational tournaments, and won four playoff matches en route to the WPIAL championship.

“I knew at the beginning of the season we were going to be a pretty good team. These girls are competitive, and they finished strong last year,” said Kelly, who began thinking a strong playoff run was in his team’s grasp following the first win against Mt. Lebanon in section play.

“Mt. Lebanon is always a team you can gauge your own team (against),” Kelly said. “After we played Mt. Lebanon, and Bethel Park, I think the girls started to believe.”

The tournament triumph at Upper St. Clair early in the season set things in motion for the Lady Highlanders.

“We played Pine-Richland in the final,” Kelly said.

North Allegheny (13-7) tied for second in Section 3-AAA with Pine-Richland.

The top three teams in Class AAA qualified for the PIAA tournament. Baldwin defeated Allderdice, 3-0, earlier this week in a first-round match.

“My coach always says, ‘We don’t get put under pressure, we apply it,’ and I think that is one of the main reasons my team won WPIALs and will hopefully continue to win at states,” Tori Sgattoni said.

Trib Total Media contributed to this story. Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or [email protected].

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