FAIRFIELD, Conn. - - Thanks in part to career night behind the service line from senior outside attacker Marcus Imwalle (Maria Stein, Ohio/Marion Local H.S.), the 12th-ranked Ball State men's volleyball team escaped the Pitt Center with a 3-2 (21-25, 25-21, 25-16, 20-25, 15-8) victory over Sacred Heart Saturday evening.
With the win, the Cardinals snap a three-match losing streak and even their record at 3-3. The Pioneers fall to 1-2 with the loss, one night after topping BSU's in-state and Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association rival IPFW; 3-1.
While a pair of Ball State players finished the night with double-digit kills, it was Imwalle's impressive serving which helped spark the victory. Imwalle finished the match with a career-best eight service aces and added eight kills to lead the team with 16 points. Five of his aces came in the third frame, helping BSU pull out to a large lead in the game.
Senior middle attacker J.D. Gasparovic (St. Louis, Mo./Oakville H.S.) led the Ball State offense with 12 kills, while finishing the contest with a .500 (12-2-20) hitting mark. He also collected six total blocks.
Fellow senior middle attacker Anders Nelson (St. Croix Falls, Wis./St. Croix Falls H.S.) also had a strong attacking night, adding eight kills and a .667 (8-0-12) rate of success. He also collected a match-best seven total blocks, including a career-high five solo stuffs.
Sophomore right side attacker Greg Herceg (Lakewood, Ohio/St. Ignatius H.S.) added a career-best 11 kills, while recording three blocks and three digs.
Sophomore outside attacker Larry Wrather (Lake Bluff, Ill./Lake Forrest H.S.) finished just shy of a double-double with a career-high 10 digs and nine kills. Ball State freshman libero Tommy Rouse (Carmel, Ind./Cathedral H.S.) led all players with 13 digs.
Freshman setter Graham McIlvaine (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central H.S.) guided the Ball State offense to a .336 rate of success for the match by handing out 46 assists.
Sacred Heart's Enzo Mackenzie led all players with 23 kills, while Bradley Borsay added 14. Tim Sadowski paced the SHU backcourt with 10 digs, while setting the Pioneers to a .248 hitting mark.
In addition to out-hitting the Pioneers, Ball State held a 46-40 edge in digs, a 14-8 lead in blocks and a 9-4 advantage in aces.
While BSU scored the first two points of the match, the Pioneers responded with four of the next five to take a 4-3 advantage. From there, the teams battled to a 13-13 tie before a 4-0 run put the hosts ahead 17-13. With Ball State trailing 19-16, kills from Nelson, Herceg and Gasparovic evened the score at 19.
The score remained tied at the 21-21 mark, before back -to-back kills from Sacred Heart's Mackenzie and two straight aces from Borsay gave the Pioneers the 25-21 opening-set win.
Sacred Heart played to a 3-1 lead to open the second stanza, only to have back-to-back Herceg kills and an Imwalle service ace help tie the score at 4-4. Another Herceg kill helped the Cardinals rattle off the next three points, and from there, BSU extended its lead to seven points at the 20-13 mark.
The Pioneers would not go down without a fight, however, scoring the next five points to pull within two at 20-18. With BSU leading 23-21, a SHU service error and a Gasparovic kill allowed the Cardinals to win the frame 25-21 and even the match at one set apiece.
The third set was close early, as Ball State played to a slim 11-10 edge. From there, however, it was all Ball State as they scored six of the next seven points to pull ahead 17-11. Three aces from Imwalle helped BSU extend its lead to 10-points at the 23-13 mark, while a Herceg kill ended the game at 25-16.
The teams battled to a 4-4 stalemate early in the fourth set, only to have a 4-0 run give the hosts the momentum and an 8-4 edge. Sacred Heart went on to extend its lead to nine points at the 20-11 mark. The Cardinals attempted to make a run at the Pioneers, scoring the next seven points to draw within two at 20-18. Unfortunately, SHU scored the next four points and went on to win the frame 25-20.
After the teams played to a 2-2 tie to open the fifth frame, a Gasparovic kill and Herceg solo block helped BSU push ahead 4-2. The teams traded the next four points before a kill from Nelson extended the BSU edge to three at 7-4.
The Cardinals took control from there, reaching match-point at 14-7 thanks to another Herceg marker. Two rallies later, a Pioneers' service error allowed the Cardinals to walk away with a 15-8 set win, and a 3-2 match victory.
The Ball State men's volleyball team returns to Worthen Arena next weekend, when it hosts Pheiffer Friday and Limestone Saturday in a pair of 7:30 p.m. first serves. In addition, Mt. St. Joseph will battle Limestone Friday and Pheiffer Saturday in a pair of 5:30 p.m. starts at Worthen Arena.