PHOENIX, Ariz. - - Three student-athletes tallied career highs in kills to help the Ball State men's volleyball team score a thrilling 3-2 (21-25, 29-27, 25-23, 23-25, 15-12) victory over Grand Canyon in Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association action Saturday evening at Antelope Gymnasium.
The Cardinals improve to 11-7 (3-4 MIVA) with the win and hand the Antelopes its first league loss of the season. GCU drops to 12-9 (3-1 MIVA).
Junior opposite attacker Greg Herceg (Lakewood, Ohio/St. Ignatius) led the Ball State offense with a career-high 16 kills, marking the second time on BSU's west coast swing he has tallied a career-high mark. Herceg, who tied his career high with 13 kills at Cal-State Northridge Wednesday, also picked up seven digs and three total blocks against the 'Lopes.
Redshirt sophomore middle attacker Matt Leske (Highwood, Ill./Highland Park) and redshirt freshman Matt Sutherland (Rochester, N.Y./Penfield) also turned in career-high marks from the attack line with 11 and nine kills, respectively. Leske also tied for team-high honors with seven total blocks, while Sutherland hit a team-best .444 (9-1-18) and added five digs and a block.
Junior outside attacker Larry Wrather (Lake Bluff, Ill./Lake Forrest) scored the match-ending kill for BSU and finished the night one kill shy of a double-double with 12 digs and nine kills. Sophomore middle attacker Kevin Owens (Fishers, Ind./Cathedral) also had a strong match, scoring eight kills and seven total blocks.
Ball State sophomore libero Tommy Rouse (Carmel, Ind./Cathedral) added a team-high 12 dig.
For the second straight night Ben Ponnet led the Grand Canyon attack, this time blasting 18 kills. Jordon Tarantino added 13 markers, while Keith Smith led all players with 13 digs. GCU libero Trent Bruns added 12 digs to help the hosts hold a slim 48-47 advantage in the category.
Ball State was able to out-hit the 'Lopes for the second consecutive night, posting a .185 (58-31-146) mark compared to .165 (62-36-158) for GCU. Junior setter Dan Wichmann (Arlington Heights, Ill./Buffalo Grove) ran the BSU offense, dishing out a career-high tying 48 assists.
Grand Canyon held a 16-14 edge in blocks and a 6-1 advantage in aces, including four from Ponnet.
The 'Lopes started the match strong, scoring the first four points and playing to a 6-1 edge. However, Ball State would battle back and take an 11-9 lead thanks to a kill and block assist from Herceg. GCU scored the next two points, and the teams played to a 20-20 stalemate from there. Unfortunately, the hosts scored the next three points and went on to win the frame 25-21 thanks to a pair of BSU miscues.
Ball State pulled out to a 14-10 lead in the second set, only to have a four-point Grand Canyon run tie the score. From there, the teams played to a 23-23 stalemate. A kill from Leske gave BSU the first set points, only to have 'Lopes answer and force overtime.
BSU had another swing to win the set at 25-24 after a kill from Herceg, but Grand Canyon tallied the next two points to pull ahead 26-25. A two-point run from the Cardinals turned the tide and gave the guests their third chance to win the set, however a kill from GCU's Tarantino kept the hosts alive. After another Herceg kill gave BSU its fourth set-point, a huge block from Owens helped the Cardinals take the set 29-27.
With the score of the third set tied at 12, the Cardinals used kills from Wrather and Leske, followed by a pair of GCU attack errors to pull ahead 16-12. Following a timeout, the 'Lopes scored the next two points before the team traded seven straight to play to a 19-17 BSU lead. Two Grand Canyon errors helped BSU reclaim its four-point advantage, at 21-17, and the Cardinals would hold on to win the set 25-23 on another Wrather kill.
The Cardinals pulled out to a 16-13 lead in the fourth frame, only to have Grand Canyon tie the score with the next three points. Ball State reclaimed a two-point lead at the 20-18 mark, only to see the Antelopes battle back and take a 22-21 edge on a BSU attack error. A Leske kill tied the score at 22-22, but GCU tallied three of the final four points to win the set 25-23 and force a deciding fifth game.
Ball State used three Grand Canyon errors over the first six plays to pull out to a 4-2 lead in the fifth set. The hosts, however, rallied within one, at 7-6, before a Herceg kill gave BSU an 8-6 edge at the side switch. The Antelopes responded with the next three points, to claim its first lead of the set at 9-8.
With Grand Canyon holding an 11-10 lead, back-to-back errors from the hosts helped the Cardinals regain control at 12-11. Kills from Herceg and Owens followed to give BSU a 14-11 lead and three match-points. A kill from Taylor Griffin kept GCU alive at 14-12, but a Wrather blast followed helping the Cardinals escape Antelope Gymnasium with a 15-12 final set victory and a 3-2 match win.
The Ball State men's volleyball team returns to action next Sunday (March 18), when it hosts MIVA rival Ohio State in a 5 p.m. first serve. The match will serve as senior night for transfer outside attacker Jeff Aucoin (Brighton, Mass./New Hampshire).