With more than 400 kills on the season, it’s usually bombs away for Oak Forest’s Jeff Sprayberry. But that’s not to say the South Suburban Player of the Year is a one-trick pony.
Opting for a pair of tips instead of big swings, Sprayberry scored two huge kills down the stretch to push Oak Forest past Andrew 25-18, 16-25, 25-23 in a thrilling Lincoln-Way East Regional semifinal on Tuesday night.
“I know (Andrew’s) expecting a lot of big hits from me,” Sprayberry said, “so I thought I’d switch it up and get a few easy points.”
“He’s a smart kid,” Oak Forest coach Lee Rucinski said. “Last year, he would have tried to blast those through and probably would’ve gotten stuffed.”
Sprayberry finished with 17 kills, Dylan Ross added seven and Jake Olson had six kills and two aces for the Bengals (26-10), which topped Andrew in three-sets for the third time this season.
“I think those two tips were key toward the end,” Andrew coach Courtney Stoub said. “It could have gone either way. I wish our blocking would have gotten a few more touches and slowed the ball down a little more.”
The win moves No. 8 Oak Forest to the Lincoln-Way East Regional finals where it will meet the top-seeded Griffins 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Andrew (17-17) received another outstanding performance from Sanil Thomas, who nearly posted a triple-double with 11 kills, 11 digs and nine assists. Neal Hausmann had seven kills and Steve Harrison 13 digs.
After a slow start, Thomas put Andrew on his back during an 11-3 surge to take control of Set 2. He blasted two aces during the span and hit over the top of Oak Forest’s block for a few big kills.
“(Thomas) is a great player,” Sprayberry said. “I definitely felt like we were going back and forth.”
Thomas connected on consecutive kills to tie Set 3 at 18, but Olson answered with a kill. Sprayberry then put the match away with the two tips and a big swing for three kills in the final seven points.
“Obviously this isn’t where we wanted to end our season,” said Thomas, a junior. “It was still a good year, but I think this team had higher aspirations.”
A huge factor for Oak Forest was 6-5 middle hitter Zack Loeding, who out-dueled Andrew’s 6-9 Nick VanderZanden at the net. Loeding posted seven kills and four blocks to VanderZanden’s seven kills.
“Loeding stepped up,” Rucinski said. “I talked with our setter (Brett Staehlin) before the match. Everybody thinks it’s going to be the ‘Spray Show.’ Then all of a sudden you’ve got Loeding putting the ball down, which gives Sprayberry more room at the pin.”
No. 1 Lincoln-Way East 25-25, No. 16 Shepard 12-18
Lindenwood recruits Nate Van Dellen and Ryan Vorderer paced Lincoln-Way East (35-1) with seven and six kills, respectively. Austin Royer doled out 25 assists and Josh Phalen had 10 digs for the Griffins. All-South Suburban selection Doug Nelson notched three kills and four digs for Shepard (11-21). Steve Szajek added four blocks and Edgar Madrigal had six digs.