CHICAGO -- Thomas Jaeschke ripped a career-high 24 kills and Cody Caldwell added 15 kills and 15 digs to lead top-seeded Loyola Chicago to a 3-2 (25-20, 22-25, 25-21, 18-25, 15-11) victory against Penn State on Thursday in front of a crowd of 4,435 in a national semifinal match at Gentile Arena. The Ramblers (28-1) will take on Stanford on Saturday night for their first national title. Penn State's season comes to a close with a 25-7 record.
Loyola stormed out of the gates, using three Jaeschke kills and two from Caldwell to take a 9-5 lead in the opening set. Caldwell had two more kills and an ace in a 6-1 run later that gave the Ramblers a commanding 18-9 lead and they were never really threatened from there, with Caldwell adding three more put-aways down the stretch as Loyola cruised to a 25-20 victory. Caldwell (seven) and Jaeschke (six) combined for 13 of Loyola's 18 kills in the opening set as the Ramblers operated at a .410 efficiency.Two Smalzer kills and three consecutive Penn State errors helped the home team build an 8-2 lead in the second set before the Nittany Lions settled in and roared back. Peter Russell had three kills as part of an 11-3 PSU spurt that gave the visitors a 13-11 lead. A Caldwell kill gave the Ramblers a needed side-out and they scored seven of the next 10 points, capped by a Nick Olson ace, to regain the lead 18-16. Penn State was able to pull even at 19-all and the teams traded points to 22-22 before the Nittany Lions closed strong. A Nick Goodell kill gave Penn State the lead and the EIVA champions were able to steal the set two points later, using an Aaron Russell kill to secure a 25-22 win.
The teams were tied nine different times to get to 11-11 in the pivotal third set before a Caldwell kill and a Smalzer ace gave the Ramblers a 13-11 lead. The margin swelled to four (16-12) after another Jaeschke kill and although they struggled to put Penn State away, they were able to side-out consistently, finally getting to set point with a 24-19 edge after a Penn State error. A service error and a Peter Russell kill kept PSU's hopes alive before, just as in the first set, a Nittany Lion service error provided the final point. Loyola spread the ball around beautifully in the set, with Olson racking up five kills and Jaeschke and Caldwell adding four apiece.
Loyola spotted Penn State the first three points of the fourth set before rallying to take a 7-5 lead after two consecutive Jaeschke kills. Consecutive Peter Russell kills later gave Penn State a 13-11 advantage midway through the frame but an Olson kill and a PSU error brought about another deadlock. Tied at 15, the Nittany Lions made their move, using a service error and two hitting errors to gain some breathing room and an 18-15 edge and the Ramblers could not string consecutive points together the rest of the way, with a Goodell solo block sending the match to a decisive fifth set.
Just its third five-set match of the season, Loyola moved out to a 6-5 lead after a Jaeschke ace. A Caldwell kill gave LU an 8-7 lead at the change-over and Olson came up with a kill and teamed with Peter Hutz for a big block to make it a three-point margin (10-7). An Aaron Russell kill pulled the Nittany Lions within a point, 11-10, and prompted a Loyola timeout but a service error out of the timeout stemmed the tide. Peter Russell found the floor to cut the margin to one before three consecutive PSU hitting errors sent the home crowd into raptures and sent the Ramblers to the championship match.
Jaeschke was outstanding, posting 24 kills at a .474 clip (24-6-38) to lead the Ramblers. He added 13 digs for his fifth double-double of the season. Caldwell was also solid, racking up 15 kills and 15 digs, while Olson came up big in the middle, slamming a career-best 12 kills to go with five blocks. Libero Peter Jasaitis was solid in the back row and his 12 digs on the night moved him past head coach Shane Davis into second on Loyola's all-time digs list.