By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State knocked off the Ball State Cardinals in a back and forth five-set thriller at Rec Hall Friday night.
It was a gritty win for the Nittany Lions after a comfortable advantage slipped away in set four. Penn State then scored seven points in a row in the final set to take control.
"That's kind of the classic example of the men's volleyball world as it is," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "Every team has big strong boys that hit the ball really hard and over the course of the match we forced them off the net more for our defense to handle things more easily and our transition offense to have a much better time at scoring."
The service line was a bit of an issue for Penn State, as the Nittany Lions committed 23 errors, but Pavlik found several bright spots in this part of the game.
"We had 10 aces and almost a one to two ace to error ratio - I'll take that," Pavlik said. "I think in spurts we served the ball better than we have all year long."
One of the more intriguing storylines of the evening was Pavlik's decision to move Jalen Penrose back over to right side for the injured Calvin Mende. Pavlik mentioned last week that he would not consider moving Penrose, who switched to middle blocker this season.
"We needed to put balls away and I think our offense spread out a bit," Pavlik said. "They've got to respect the fact that we can put balls away at both antennas."
The reason for moving Penrose to middle this season in the first place was mainly due to Penrose's inconsistencies throughout his time at right side but tonight, the move paid off.
Penrose finished with a match-high 16 kills adding six service aces, including two clutch aces in the fifth set.
"It was a little foreign to me at first. It took me about the entire week of practice to get comfortable again, but I'm glad I did again," Penrose said.
With Penrose moving back over to right side, Jason Donorovich made his first start of the season at one of the middle spots, finishing with five kills and three blocks.
"It was a lot of fun. We practiced like that all week, so I'm comfortable with the guys," Donorovich said. "I'm always ready to go. That's where my mindset is. I always want to be out there with the guys so I was excited."
Another unsung hero of Friday night's match was Kevin Gear, Penn State's other middle blocker. Gear finished with a team-high six blocks and played a critical role in limiting Ball State's star middle blocker, Matt Walsh to just eight kills in five sets.
"When Kevin got his first block we knew right then that he had control," setter Luke Braswell said. "When he shows up and takes that ownership on the court, it's awesome."
Braswell was outstanding all night with 44 assists for the match, looking every bit the part of a veteran leader when Penn State rebounded after its loss in the fourth set.
"We realized that even though we blew a pretty big lead in the fourth set, it was a new game and we knew that we had them before so we could do it again," Braswell said. "Everyone on the court was just calm."
Penn State improved to 4-2 with the win and will have one more nonconference match before diving into EIVA play. The Nittany Lions will take on No. 15 Fort Wayne Saturday at 4 p.m. in the Rec Hall south gym, looking to cap a strong finish to their nonconference slate.