David Herrera is glad to be back. Now the Plainfield East senior setter hopes to help his team to new heights.
Herrera had his appendix removed on April 26 and was out of the Bengals lineup for nearly four weeks. He and his teammates shook off some nerves and fought off a set point in the opener to defeat crosstown rival Plainfield Central 26-24, 25-20 on Tuesday, May 22 in the opening semifinal of the Oswego Regional, which is part of the Minooka Sectional.
The Bengals will face Oswego East, which defeated Minooka 25-17, 25-21 in the second semifinal match, on Wednesday at 6 PM for the regional championship. Plainfield East (28-3) will be bidding for its first regional title since 2013 and second in the 10-year history of the school. Oswego East (26-9), which has established a new school record for victories in a season, will be looking for its first regional championship in its 13-year history.
“It was tough to wait,” said Herrera, who was cleared to play on Sunday. “But I’m glad to be here to help the team now. Some of us were nervous. I know I was a little. I didn’t want to mess up.”
Plainfield East actually uses a trio of setters in the lineup at different times. But the 6-foot-4 inch Herrera has been the main one. He had 14 assists in the semifinal match out of a 6-2 offense. Junior Jake Simpson added 13 assists.
Still the Bengals had to fight tooth-and-nail to win the opener, which featured 16 ties and six lead changes. It also featured a rally where the ball went to the ceiling, landed on a light and never came down, which resulted in a replay. Central (8-23) led 14-11 midway though, which was the largest lead for either team. Behind three kills from senior outside hitter Trey Cowan (match-high 11 kills), Plainfield East came back with a 6-1 run for a 17-15 lead. But seven more ties followed.
A net violation gave the Wildcats a set point. Senior outside hitter Erik Gerulskis (7 kills) quickly squashed that with a kill. Then, on a pivotal point where the ball rolled off the top of the tape and out of bounds on a 50/50 play at the net, it was ruled that Central touched it last. That gave the Bengals a set point opportunity and Cowan clubbed the winner.
“You knew it was going to be close,” Plainfield East coach Alex Rodriguez said of the opening set. “Central played [Monday] night (a 25-19, 23-25, 25-17 win over host Oswego), so they got their nerves out. It could have gone either way and [the Wildcats] were a little more calm.
“In the second set I was like ‘let’s go. Let’s stay calm, stay committed and just do it.’ We did.”
The Wildcats led very early in the second set, the last time at 3-2. After the fourth tie of the set, at 7-7, Plainfield East took control with a 6-1 spurt as Nathan Mason had a pair of kills and and Cowan also added two and an ace. Ahead 15-13, senior middle hitter Matt Binkus (5 kills, 3 blocks) bashed a kill and a block in a 4-0 run that provided a good cushion.
“It’s good to have that variety when I set them,” Herrera said of his array of hitters. “I can trust them to put the ball down anywhere on the court.
“In the second set we had more energy. We’ve just got to keep working as a team and get the jitters out. Us getting to state is the plan.”
Senior libero Nick Cozza added 12 digs for the Bengals. Central outside hitters – junior Marc Arsenault and senior Noah Sampson each had five kills.
In the second match, Oswego East also used a balanced attack to get the victory. Sophomore right side hitter Anthony Torres (8 kills), senior middle hitter Jahari Winkfield (6 kills, match winning block) and senior outside hitting twins – Cade and Collin Harrison (5 kills each) led the offense. Senior setter Sam Behnke (23 assists) and senior libero Ben Jorgensen (10 digs) also contributed for the Panthers.
Minooka (18-18) was paced by junior outside hitter AJ Lewis (7 kills), junior middle hitter Noah Easter (6 kills), sophomore opposite side hitter Shane Ooms (5 kills), sophomore setter Rafael Vieyra (17 assists) and sophomore libero Caden Ritchey (8 digs). The Indians, who defeated Plainfield South 25-20, 25-12 in the opening round on Monday, only had three seniors and sometimes started five sophomores.
The regional title match will pit a pair of Southwest Prairie rivals. The teams split two matches during the season. Plainfield East won 25-21, 25-20 on May 1 at home. The Panthers turned the tables and celebrated senior night on May 17 with a 25-12, 25-22 victory which knocked the Bengals out out a first place tie in the conference and gave it to Plainfield North.
“We split during the regular season and we’re excited to have the opportunity to play them again,” Plainfield East coach Brian Zerfas said of the rubber match with the Bengals. “It’s going to be a great match.”