The match featured 48 tie scores and 14 lead changes. The last set was tied at 14, 15, and 16-all. And it was Nazareth which had 14-12, 15-14, and 16-15 leads in that last set.
With the win, Carthage raised its record to 28-5, while Nazareth ended its season at 27-9. It was the third time this season that Carthage defeated the Golden Flyers. Previous scores were 3-1 and 3-0.
As a result, Carthage will face #3-seeded UC-Santa Cruz Saturday in a national semifinal at 6:30 pm. In the other semifinal at 4 pm, it will be #1-seeded Springfield versus #5-seeded Hunter.
The Red Men were led tonight by a trio of athletes with great statistical performances. They were senior outside hitter Randy Hansen (Oak Lawn, Ill.) with 25 kills, 10 digs, and a .444 hitting percentage; sophomore Pat Barry (Skokie, Ill.) with 21 kills, nine digs, and a .381 hitting percentage; and senior middle blocker Matt Yanz (Bolingbrook, Ill.) with 13 kills, 10 blocks, and a .440 hitting percentage.
Not to be outdone, the Golden Flyers had four who finished in double digits in kills. They were junior middle blocker Rob Kraft (Waretown, N.J.) with 20 kills, six digs, six blocks, and a .545 hitting percentage; freshman middle blocker Luke Lawatsch (Penfield, N.Y.) with 17 kills, three blocks, and a .406 percentage; senior outside hitter Billy Gimello (Hauppage, N.Y.) with 16 kills, five digs, and two blocks; and junior Alex Houghtalen (West Charlton, N.Y.) with 11 kills, five digs, and five blocks.
As a team, both did themselves proud. Carthage hit .368, Nazareth .325.
The first set was a back and forth battle that saw Nazareth take an 8-6 lead early on. Carthage responded to take a 16-14 lead of their own midway through the set following the media timeout. The two teams traded a few more points, but then sophomore setter Connor Wexter (New Lenox, Ill.) set up sophomore outside hitter Jim Schultz (Salem, Wisc.) for the spike and Carthage had its largest lead of the set at 21-17. The teams split 4-4 the rest of the way, and Wexter set up Schultz once more for the first set clincher to make it 25-21.
Early in the second game, it nearly mirrored the first. Nazareth again took an early lead, this time at 10-9 following a Carthage attack error. Carthage briefly went up two at 14-12, but two Kraft kills sandwiching a strike from Gimello turned the tide back in Nazareth’s favor. It was15-14 Golden Flyers heading into the media timeout.
The set featured no leads of greater than two points. The Red Men used two Hansen kills to go up 22-20, but that lead quickly evaporated after Kraft responded with a strike and Schultz was blocked by Houghtalen and Kraft. Nazareth got up 24-23 with the second set on the line, but Schultz, Yanz, and Barry registered kills to give Carthage a come-from –behind 27-25 second set victory and a 2-0 lead.
In the crucial third set, Nazareth would not lay down. Carthage led through the third, up by as many as four at 11-7 and again at 18-14, but the Golden Flyers bounced back. Trailing 17-20, Nazareth used kills from senior middle blocker Ellis Walsh (Rochester, N.Y.) and Lawatsch and a Carthage attack error to tie the game at 22. It took extra points, but Nazareth would win the third set, 28-26, after another Lawatsch kill and another Carthage error.
The momentum thus shifted to Nazareth heading into the fourth game. While the Golden Flyers never seemed out of reach, they made Carthage play catch-up the whole set. Junior setter EJ Wells-Spicer (Phelps, N.Y.) had nine assists in a set in which Nazareth never trailed, forcing a decisive fifth game with a 25-21 win.
In the climactic game five, Nazareth kept its momentum going even further. The Golden Flyers raced out to a 5-2 lead, but two Barry kills helped Carthage quickly erase the deficit and tie it up at 6-all. Nazareth hung tough and went back up 12-10 after freshman outside hitter Brody Cord (Loomis, Calif.) connected on a junior setter Connor Ecklund (Harrisburg, Pa.) set, which was enough to force Carthage to use a timeout. The teams traded points to make it 14-12 Nazareth, one point from advancing. But an attack error from Nazareth and a Barry kill kept the Red Men alive and knotted the score at 14. The Golden Flyers once again pushed Carthage to the brink of elimination, this time at 16-15. But Barry struck twice and Schultz added a kill to give Carthage the roller-coaster victory, 18-16 in the fifth set.