HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Led by a historic serving performance from Eric Johnson, Springfield swept Endicott in the NCAA Division III championship quarterfinals on Friday afternoon at Juniata College's S+R Center. The Pride won by the set scores of 25-9, 25-10, 25-21.
The win boosts Springfield's record to 25-8 this season and propels the Pride to the national semifinals for the fifth consecutive season. The Pride will take on the winner of the Rivier and Carthage on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET.Johnson set the NCAA championship record with seven aces in a match. The previous Division III record was four, which had happened five times before, including by Springfield’s Luis Vega and Mike Becker in the 2013 NCAA championship semifinals. Nine different players totaled five aces in NCAA Division I championship history.
Vega continued his strong play as he posted a double-double with 14 kills and 10 digs while hitting .550. Keaton Pieper directed Springfield's offense with 27 assists, six digs and three blocks as the Pride hit .394 in the contest. AVCA Division III national player of the year Jimmy O'Leary registered six kills on six errorless swings and led all players with five blocks.
Springfield, playing in its first match since April 12, scored the first 10 points of the match and benefited from the tremendous serving of Johnson, who guided the run for the Pride with three service aces. The Pride’s lead grew to 16-3 as Pieper and Sean Peterson combined for a block on the pin, and Springfield forced the Gulls into their second timeout at 18-4 as Vega muscled a kill through the Endicott block. Angel Perez converted in transition to give Springfield set point, and Sean Zuvich ripped Springfield’s fourth ace of the frame to give the Pride a 25-9 set win. The Pride hit .550 in the opening frame, with Vega totaling a team-best five kills.
Springfield opened up the second set with the first four points, with Vega blasting an ace to put the Pride in early control. The top seed didn’t let up and a Perez kill in transition forced the Gulls into a timeout trailing 9-1. The Pride’s lead ballooned to 14-4 on a Vega overpass kill, but Endicott was able to battle back, using a pair of Springfield attack errors to get within 16-7. The Pride regained its rhythm, regaining its 10-point lead on a O’Leary and Perez double block at 20-10. Johnson cranked back-to-back aces as the Pride earned another set point, and an Endicott attack error gave the Pride a 25-10 win.
After surrendering the first point of the third set, Springfield rattled off the next four points to regain control. Endicott battled back to even the match at 10-all, but a Vega backrow kill jump started a 3-0 push for the Pride. The Gulls once again answered back with a run of their own to once again knot the match at 14-all. Out of a media timeout, Vega smashed an overpass, and O’Leary and Pieper snuffed out a Gull attack for a 17-14 lead. Springfield built a 22-18 lead on another O’Leary kill and would earn match point on a huge backrow swing from Vega. Springfield sealed the victory on a monster block from O’Leary and Pieper to advance to the national semifinals.