Veteran poise carried Loyola Blakefield past a young Gilman squad, 27-25, 27-25, 26-24, on Friday night in Towson.
The two-time defending champion Dons, who have already wrapped up the top seed in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs that begin Nov. 1, will be looking for a three-repeat Nov. 3.
Their most likely opponent will be third-seeded Gilman (12-4, 5-3 conference) or No. 2 Calvert Hall (13-3, 5-3) in the 8 p.m. match held at Boys' Latin.
If the Greyhounds, who challenge Calvert Hall on the Cardinals' home court Nov. 1 while Loyola (16-0, 8-0) hosts Mount St. Joseph (6-10, 2-6) in the other conference semifinal, do reach the final, fans could be treated to another riveting match like the one Friday night.
Gilman led in all three sets, including a six-point advantage in the second set behind senior middle hitter Jack Hutchins and senior opposite hitter Cameron Wade and a seven-point margin in the third set with junior middle hitter Chris Kohler inflicting damage.
Each time, Loyola refused fold.
"We like to have a lot of fun on the court," said senior co-captain Bennett Bradley, a 5-foot-11 jumping jack whose emphatic back-to-back kills in the third set keyed the sweep. "So we always bounce back."
With the Greyhounds ahead, 17-11, in the second set, a service error, indecision on which player would hit a return shot and a bad hit gave the Dons three easy points and momentum to build a rally.
Senior Tim Nordbrook's block, a kill by senior Peter Herrick and a long hit by Gilman made up the rest of the difference for the Dons.
Neither team led by more than two points after that in a set finally decided by senior Brady Harvey's block.
In the final set, Loyola rallied from a 21-16 deficit behind Bradley, Herrick, fellow senior Tyler Llewellyn and Jake Cohen to draw even, 23-23.
Llewellyn's block after Bradley's kill sealed the Dons' 38th consecutive victory, dating back to 2010.
"We always say that we'd rather lose three close ones than (win) some of the sweeps we've had," said Gilman coach Neal Gabbey, whose Greyhounds have only four seniors on their roster. "That's not to diminish those teams, but you learn a lot more from these kind of things."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun