On Penn State’s first swing of Friday night’s top-15 clash, Ball State’s Wil McPhillips elevated in the middle of the front row, and emphatically rejected the attack. McPhillips’ block on the opening point of the match released an immediate roar from the Cardinal faithful.
Then, a near replicate of the play happened again just seconds later.
McPhillips rose up, and unkindly sent back the Nittany Lions’ shot. This time, the crowd’s reception was even louder than the previous cheer.
The Cardinals drew 2,513 fans to Worthen Arena Friday night — the second time more than 2,500 fans have taken in a match this season. The sizable crowd provided a consistent presence in Ball State’s favor, which freshman Braydon Savitski-Lynde said helped fuel the Cardinals’ energy.
“Sometimes we have a tendency to come out a little flat,” Savitski-Lynde said. “So, having the support around us helped get that energy early, and it just got us going.”
In spite of the sizable contingent of fans in attendance, No. 15 Ball State was unable to manufacture a winning performance. The Cardinals fell to No. 8 Penn State (7-2) in a three-set battle (24-26, 22-25, 19-25).
“We couldn't finish the first contact on defense,” Ball State head coach Donan Cruz said. “I think you get that result because we were unable to capitalize on some defensive opportunities.”
The most tightly contested set of the evening came in the opening frame, which went into overtime points — the fourth extra-length set in Ball State’s last three matches. The Cardinals overcame a late 21-18 deficit to even the match at 24 points apiece, but the Nittany Lions slammed two straight kills to capture set one.
Penn State followed its narrow win in the opening set with consecutive victories in the second and third frames. Although the Nittany Lions completed the sweep, Ball State averaged nearly 22 points per set.
The differential in offensive production between the two squads provided perhaps the most glaring discrepancies in the box score. Penn State slammed 51 kills at a .433 hitting percentage — the highest mark for any of Ball State’s opponents this year — while the Cardinals only managed to accumulate 33 kills at a less-efficient .262 clip.
“They just managed the ball really well,” Cruz said. “I thought their outsides did a good job, and they didn't take any reckless swings.”
Though Ball State’s offense was outpaced by one of the nation’s top corps of hitters, a number of individual Cardinals enjoyed fine outings. For the second consecutive match, junior outside hitter Tinaishe Ndavazocheva and Savitski-Lynde led Ball State in kills, as they each recorded nine terminations.
Freshman setter Lucas Machado led the Ball State offense as a starter for the sixth time in his debut season. The Brazilian logged 27 assists, five digs and one kill.
After posting a season-low four blocks in its win over Loyola Chicago Thursday, the red and white’s defense had another quiet night. The Cardinals recorded just three blocks and were led by McPhillips, who posted two rejections.
“Every match is going to be a different story,” Cruz said. “Tonight I thought on the block and defense would have been the best solution for us.”
Ball State’s matchup with Penn State was its final taste of non-conference action, as the red and white’s remaining 15 regular season matches are against Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) opponents. The Cardinals (8-6, 1-0 MIVA) will travel to the St. Louis area next weekend for a pair of league matches — the first against Mckendree (2-3, 0-0 MIVA) on Feb. 9, and the second against Lindenwood (2-5, 0-1 MIVA) on Feb. 10.
“We told the guys that this Penn State match was perfect timing because we got in our groove last night,” Cruz said. “Next week just gives us another opportunity to get back in the gym, train and then prepare for the ones that really matter.”
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