BRISTOL, Tenn. --- Chad Mercado (Orlando, Fla.) recorded a match-high 24 kills, including 15 over the final three frames, to lead the Lees-McRae College men's volleyball team to a thrilling five-set victory over Ball State University on Sunday afternoon in a neutral site match on the campus of King College.
Lees-McRae (15-8) won the match by scores of 22-25, 25-22, 16-25, 27-25, and 16-14, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to knock off a Ball State (14-9) squad that received seven votes in last week's AVCA Division I-II Coaches Top 15 Poll. The Bobcats recorded nine blocks while holding Ball State to a .194 hitting percentage.
Mercado paced all hitters with 24 kills, marking the sixth time this season that the senior has breached the 20-kill plateau. The 6-5, 235-pound opposite also tallied nine digs to narrowly miss a double-double, while Juan Ramirez (Miami, Fla.) posted a match-high 10 digs. Randy Ramirez (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) chipped in 45 assists, while John Lucas (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Eduardo Gonzales (San Juan, Puerto Rico) posted eight and seven kills, respectively. Gonzales also recorded nine digs and equaled Mercado's team-high of three blocks.
Anders Nelson led the way for Ball State with 14 kills and a .458 hitting percentage, as Larry Wrather and J.D. Gasparovic each added 10 kills to join Nelson in double figures. Lee Meyers chipped in nine kills while Graham McIlvaine notched a match-high 49 assists. Gasparovic and Tommy Rouse also added contest-bests of seven blocks and 10 digs, respectively.
Lees-McRae started strong, taking an early 8-3 lead in the first set on back-to-back kills from Randy Ramirez to force a Cardinal timeout. After the respite, Ball State battled back to trim the margin to 10-8 on back-to-back kills by Meyer before the Bobcats answered, widening the lead to 14-9 on a solo block by Mercado. The Cardinals fought back once again, claiming a 21-19 advantage on a block by Gasparovic and Greg Herceg to cap a 12-5 run, before closing out the first set with a 4-3 spurt to take the early advantage.
The Bobcats answered in the second, claiming a 13-7 lead on a Ball State miscue before taking a 17-11 advantage following a brief spurt by the Cardinals. After Ball State cut the advantage to 20-18 with a 7-3 run, the Bobcats tallied three straight points to push the margin to 23-18 on a solo block by Gonzales. Ball State responded with a 4-0 run, trimming the lead to 23-22 before Mercado capped the set with a kill to even the match at 1-1.
Ball State reclaimed the momentum early in the third, taking a 16-12 lead on back-to-back miscues by the Bobcats before pushing the margin to 22-14 on a block by Gasparovic and Jamion Hartley. The Cardinals then closed out the frame with a Hartley kill to retake the lead in the match.
Lees-McRae started to rally in the fourth, opening an early 9-6 lead on a Mercado kill before Ball State answered, launching a 9-1 run to take a 15-10 advantage on back-to-back service aces from Meyer. The Bobcats would battle back, claiming a 19-18 margin on a pair of Cardinal miscues.
Neither team would hold more than a one-point advantage for the remainder of the set until, with the score even at 25-25, the Bobcats forced a Cardinal miscue before claiming the frame with a solo block by Randy Ramirez to send the match into the fifth set.
The fifth set proved to be a nail-biter, with the frame featuring nine tie scores, five lead changes, and no advantages of more than three points. Ball State claimed the largest lead of the set at 10-7 before the Bobcats answered with four straight points, claiming an 11-10 advantage on three consecutive Cardinal miscues.
After Ball State rallied to take a 14-13 lead and force match point, the Bobcats put their toughness on display, scoring three straight points to claim the thrilling 3-2 victory with an empathic kill from Mercado to take the set by a score of 16-14.
Lees-McRae returns to the court on Saturday, Apr. 2 when the Bobcats travel to Mount Olive, N.C. in a pivotal Conference Carolinas clash against Mount Olive College, a matchup which features the two top teams in the league so far this season. First serve is slated for 3 p.m.
- LMC -