#13 Georgia Tech and #7 Pitt Five Setter go the way of the Panthers

#13 Georgia Tech lost a nerve-wracking heartthrob to #7 Pittsburgh at the Peterson Events Center and made it so that none of the GT/Pitt games were played at their regular homes this season. After Pitt won a close first set 25-21, Tech won the next two sets 25-22, 25-23. Pitt squeezed out the fourth set 25-22 and had to battle Tech with four match points to win the fifth 19-17.

Breland Morrissette was Tech’s standout, racking up 20 kills to double her career high. With her 9 blocks, she was also Tech’s points leader by a margin over Julia Bergmann.

Speaking of Bergmann, it was another classic Bergmann match with high volume attacks, a ton of kills, lots of digging and aces thrown in. It was her 12th 20-kill game this season and her 11th double-double, bringing her season kill total to 500 and career kill total to 1,692 with one regular season game remaining.

Tech went haywire defensively. Bianca Bertolino, Bergmann and Paola Pimentel made a total of 58 of Tech. In a five-set game, errors were minimal with no attack from either side. Tech recorded 11 return + block errors versus Pitt’s 12. Bertolio led all Tech players in WPA with a 1.65 in the match, with 0.77 coming from their defense.

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Tech gained her biggest lead early in the set, going 14-9 after Breland landed her only ace of the game. Pitt quickly took that lead away and tied it at 15, at which point both teams were over 0.450%. Pitt took a 6-0 run for a 23-18 lead and easily finished the set 25-21. Pitt’s Courtney Buzzerio got 8 kills in the set to lead all players.

The second set was neck and neck until 17:17. Pitt from the eye test was in control of the set until a miner kill took it to 18-17 where Pitt called timeout. Three points later, Pitt used his final timeout of the set after Morrissette set up a solo block to Georgia Tech’s 20-18. Tech held the lead and won 25-22 after Dillyn Griffin’s serve was set up by head coach Michelle Collier, who called a time-out to ice her before serving.

Set three took time for Tech to really get into it. Both sides were tied at seven before Pitt went on a 10-6 stretch that forced Collier to call a time-out to stop the bleeding before the set spiraled out of control. In a seven-point streak after that, Breland matched and surpassed her career kill mark, including back-to-back kills, to match Pitt at 20-17. The Panthers called a time-out but couldn’t stop the bleeding as Breland grabbed two more kills in the final four points of a 6-0 run that put Tech 21-20 ahead. Bergmann completed the comeback set win with back-to-back kills to finish it 25-23 and give Tech a 2-1 set lead.

By this point, Morrissette had a guaranteed free set to push her personal kill record as high as possible, reaching 15 kills on the first point. Pitt, however, clicked very well on offense in Tech’s only poor defensive stretch, going down early at 10-5. A block and kill from Morrissette were part of a three-point run that brought Tech back to 10-8. The score was within two points or up to 19-19, where Buzzerio set up a four-point run via blocks and kills, knocking Tech out of the way and winning the set for Pitt 25-22. It was the only set both teams hit under .200.

Early in the fifth set, both sides played shot for shot, with only a few blocks separating the two teams.

Team stats after four sets.
Statistics about Pittsburgh Athletics

Worst-case scenario, Tech had played a match by that point that proved they could keep up with a top-10 team on the road, which they hadn’t done all season.

The fifth set was a great microcosm of how talented and brave these two teams are. If they had played to seven sets, it would have been even that far out. Tech quickly came up to a 3-0 lead, crucial in the set that only goes as far as 15 points. Pitt used both timeouts when Erin Moss hit a free ball kill to make it 9-5 Tech. A kill by Bertolino after the time-out left Tech Pitt doubling up and five points from victory. However, Pitt rallied again, winning five of the next seven points to make it 12-10 after four kills from Valeria Vazquez Gomez. At 13-10, a Vazquez kill, two early attacking errors from Tech and an ace from Rachel Fairbanks gave Pitt a match point at 14-13. Tech saved three match points, but Pitt eventually scored the final point, her 114th of the match, to win 19-17, 3-2.

Emotions and players in the spotlight

Having followed almost every point of this Georgia Tech volleyball season, personally I wasn’t the least bit disturbed by the outcome of this game. Just getting five sets against a top 10 team on the road is a humongous achievement in itself. Of course, winning is preferred, but just assuming Tech didn’t win from that game completely belittles the team’s incredible performances.

Hear me when I say this This was Tech’s best game of the season. No demoralizing points stretch was allowed. Kills came from everywhere. Defensively, Tech was on point, minimizing the spots where they are typically exploited. Bergmann had FORTY more attacks than Morrissette, and we still had two players with 20+ kills. The stats will do their part, but there are some games that are obviously the best because it was a unique experience and the kind of testing it offered.

To miner: She had 71 tries and hit just .155 with 14 errors. However, this is not uncommon against high profile teams like Pitt, who can throw a double or triple block at them at will. She hit only .232 in the previous Pitt game. In a way, even with 25 kills leading the team, she becomes a kind of lure that allows the rest of the team to become effective on offense. Her sheer talent is unmatched on a team, but it’s also a smokescreen when needed. Her 1.19 WPA in the match is just 0.01 behind Bella D’Amico for 2nd place on the team.

On Morrisette: Player of the Match for Georgia Tech in our book. At 20, she’s doubling her career kill record. She got .581, 20 kills on 31 attempts. Absolutely crazy stuff. She also leads all players in blocks of nine. Both of her mistakes are just minor misinterpretations of D’Amico’s sentences, they weren’t her fault. Without that performance, Tech loses before we can even think of a fifth set. Games like this make this team so great. We have the likely ACC Player of the Year in Bergmann, but the supporting cast of the starting rotation is so good that we have the people there to deliver those performances when a stellar play is needed. Last night it was Breland’s turn.

About Bertolino: Bianca in the back row also performed decisively, hitting .440 with 12 kills, her second-highest all season. Her 24 wins match her career high set against Louisville two weeks ago. She wasn’t the flashiest on the team, but she was rock solid at the back and held plenty of points with highly skilled digging. Her Dig WPA alone was 0.75, 0.20 points better than everyone else in the category.

Finally…

Final Statistics
Pittsburgh Athletics stats

An otherworldly match between two powerful teams was the perfect entertainment for those who tuned in or were at the match. 3,556 people came to the Peterson Events Center, Pitt’s second largest home crowd on record. Both games this season were so overplayed that they couldn’t fit at both home grounds in Atlanta and Pittsburgh. According to HuskerGeek’s EPIC rating (a measure of game quality combined with team quality), this was the eighth-best game of the NCAA D1 season, only to be surpassed by Maryland’s four-set loss to #19 Purdue yesterday.

I’m looking forward to

Tech plays one last game before Selection Sunday, Saturday at 1 p.m. in O’Keefe against Florida State. It’s indeed during the football game, so we don’t blame you if that doesn’t hit your visual radar. But if things go badly in Athens at halftime you have a great backup viewing option.

While this was a loss, it was as good a loss as a team vying for NCAA Tournament seeding would want. Tech has sat between 10th and 13th in the AVCA Coaches poll for the past few weeks. The top 16 seeded will host NCAA tournament games. A win on Saturday is crucial to keep those hopes alive for Tech.

Happy Thanksgiving my friends. Go jackets!

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