MUNCIE, Ind. - - Despite a career-high 19 kills from freshman outside attacker Larry Wrather (Lake Bluff, Ill./Lake Forrest H.S.) and a furious fourth game rally, the 15th-ranked Ball State men's volleyball team suffered a 3-2 (20-30, 30-28, 30-23, 30-26, 15-10) setback to No. 9 Penn State Thursday night at Worthen Arena.
With the loss, the Cardinals fall to 13-9 on the year, while the Nittany Lions improve to 19-5.
Wrather turned in another solid performance for the Ball State offense with his career-high and team-best 19 kills. He also tallied a .325 (19-6-40) attack percentage in the match, while adding six digs and a service ace.
Junior middle attacker J.D. Gasparovic (St. Louis, Mo./Oakville H.S.) led the Cardinals with a .462 (13-1-26) attack percentage, with 11 of his 13 kills coming in games three (five) and four (six). He also added a match-high nine total blocks (one solo and eight assists).
Eric Schulte (Shorewood, Wis./Shorewood H.S.) continued his strong play versus the Nittany Lions, adding 13 kills and a .231 (13-7-26) attack percentage. In the opening match between the two clubs Feb. 19, Schulte led the Cardinals with eight kills and a .636 (8-1-11) attack percentage.
As a team, the Cardinals hit above .300 for the third time this season, actually out-hitting Penn State .305 (67-20-154) to .240 (69-29-167) thanks in part to 55 assists from senior setter Ethan Pheister (Shorewood, Wis./Shorewood H.S.). The Nittany Lions entered the week ranked second in the country with a .346 attack percentage.
The nation's leading attacker Max Lipsitz led Penn State with a .556 (16-1-27) attacking mark, while Will Price smashed a match-high 22 kills. Joe Sunder added 15 kills for PSU.
After a slow start in the backcourt, with just 26 digs between the two clubs in the opening two frames, Penn State finished the night with a 59 to 54 edge in digs. PSU's Dennis Del Valle led all players with 19, while BSU senior libero Billy Ebel (Lenexa, Kan./Bishop Miege H.S.) posted a team-high 15.
The teams traded the first nine points of the match before a Schulte and Gasparovic block assist gave BSU a 6-4 advantage. Moments later, a pair of PSU errors pushed the Cardinals' lead to three at 8-5. While the guests used two Ball State errors to draw within one, at 10-9, two-straight BSU points capped by a back row kill from Wrather, moved the score to 12-9.
Moments later, an overpass smash from Lee Meyer (Cincinnati, Ohio/Moeller H.S.) forced the guests to utilize their first timeout trailing by four, 15-11. Two more Nittany Lion errors after the break helped the Cardinals take complete control of the game at 17-11.
Ball State took a 10-point lead at 28-18 on a Gasparovic solo block, before winning the frame four rallies later on another block assists from Schulte and Gasparovic. In the game, the Cardinals' offense posted a .425 (12-2-23) attack percentage, while the defense limited Penn State to a .175 (16-9-40) mark.
While Penn State pulled out to an early 6-3 advantage, Wrather led the Cardinals charge back with two kills surrounding a service ace, tying the score at six. With the Nittany Lions back up by two, a kill and pair of block assists from Schulte (with both blocks including Gasparovic) gave Ball State its first lead of the frame at 11-10.
Unfortunately, a pair of BSU errors helped Penn State regain the lead at 12-11, while a Price kill extended the edge to three at 16-13. Despite drawing within one point on four occasions (18-17, 19-18, 25-24 and 29-28) the Cardinals could not push through in the end, as the Nittany Lions won the game 30-28 on a service error.
The Cardinals lost the second frame despite out-hitting Penn State .500 (16-4-24) to .346 (15-6-26). Both backcourts struggled in the frame, with four digs apiece, while BSU amassed four blocks to PSU's 3.5.
Game three opened with the teams battling to a 6-6 stalemate before a pair of Sunder service aces helped Penn State pull ahead 8-6. While Ball State battled within one on several occasions, including the 15-14 mark, a 6-1 run gave the Nittany Lions a 21-15 edge.
Gasparovic tried to rally the Cardinals with three kills over the next four plays, cutting the gap to four at 22-18. However, the guests responded with a 4-1 run leading to BSU's second timeout of the frame at 26-19. Penn State went on to win the game 30-23 on a Ryan Wolf solo block.
Both backcourts played strong in the third game, with Penn State's recording 15 digs and BSU's adding 11. The Nittany Lions also out-hit the Cardinals for the first time in the match .441 (19-4-34) to .231 (15-6-39).
The Nittany Lion's offense continued to hit on all cylinders early in the fourth game, as two kills from Lipsitz helped them build a 6-2 edge and force a Ball State timeout. Trailing 9-3, the Cardinals capitalized on a Gasparovic kill, pair of Anders Nelson (St. Croix Falls, Wis./St. Croix Falls H.S.) solo blocks and a PSU attack error to pull within two at 9-7.
The Cardinals remained within two at 12-10, only to see a 7-3 run give the Nittany Lions control of the frame at 19-13. After BSU's second timeout, Gasparovic stopped the visitors run with another kill, while two Nelson markers helped Ball State close within four at 22-18.
Moments later, a kill and block assist from Jamion Hartley (North Chicago, Ill./North Chicago H.S.) helped rally BSU within two at 23-21 and forced Penn State's first timeout. The Cardinals added the next two points out of the break, tying the score at 23 on another Hartley kill.
BSU took its first advantage of the game at 26-25 on back-to-back kill from Wrather. After the Nittany Lion's second timeout, a Gasparovic service ace pushed the score to 27-25. Another Hartley kill moved the score to 28-25, while a Penn State attack error gave the Cardinals game point at 29-25. Ball State won the game two rallies later, at 30-26, on a Wrather kill.
Ball State once again held the attacking edge in the frame, out-hitting the Nittany Lions .250 (17-5-48) to .087 (12-8-46). Backcourt play was another big factor, as PSU tallied 23 digs in the frame, while BSU scored 22.
Two kills and a block assists from Price helped Penn State pull ahead early in game five, as they forced the Cardinals to call timeout trailing 4-1. Two kills from Lipsitz and another Price marker pushed the PSU lead to five at 7-2.
Despite kills from Gasparovic and Wrather, Penn State held an 8-4 advantage at the court switch. The Cardinals surged back into the game, as a Hartley kill and block from Pheister and Nelson moved the score to 9-7 leading to Penn State's first break.
A Wrather kill on the next play brought the Cardinals within one at 9-8, while a service error gave the ball back to Penn State. The cycle repeated itself over the next two rallies, moving the score to 11-9, before a Price ace led to BSU's second minute pause at 12-9.
Kills from Edgardo Goas and Price followed, giving the hosts match-point at 14-9. After a Nelson kill, a BSU service error sealed the win for the guests at 15-10. Penn State held a slim .240 (7-2-21) to .200 (7-3-20) attacking advantage in the final frame.
The Ball State men's volleyball team returns to action Saturday, when it travels to Fort Wayne for a pivotal Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association showdown with IPFW. First serve between the Cardinals and Mastodons is set for 7 p.m.