By Michael Rich
Liberty battled, but Zoe Birnbrich had 21 kills and six blocks to help visiting Dublin Coffman clinch the OCC-Central with a straight-set victory Tuesday night in Powell.
Birnbrich kept the Patriots off balance, using a combination of a hard spikes and soft tip shots in the first set – a 25-19 Coffman win. The Patriots hadn’t lost a set since the Shamrocks took the first meeting Sept. 19 in three sets, a span of 10 games.
“I think we played them more consistently this time than we did the first time,” Liberty coach Jen Chapman said. “I’m happy with what we’re doing, I just hope we can take that next step and get over the hump.”
Shelby Stewart and Lauren Hofer led the Patriots with five kills apiece. Stewart also led with five blocks.
Two of Hofer’s kills came during a key sequence during the second set when Liberty (16-2, 11-2 OCC) scored four consecutive points to cut the deficit to two. But Coffman — led by Birnbrich’s three kills and a block — rallied, scoring seven of the final eight points to take the set 25-17.
“(Birnbrich) is a great player,” Chapman said. “She’s got a lot of experience. (Birnbrich and Hunter Atherton) gel well together. Their chemistry is really good.”
Atherton had 38 assists and Rika Yoshimura had 14 digs to lead Coffman.
The Patriots opened strong in the third set, scoring eight of the first 12 points, but Coffman (19-1, 13-0 OCC) rallied with seven consecutive points to take a 15-12 lead. Birnbrich was involved in three consecutive blocks to help the Rocks take the lead. She had three kills and Rachel Kirchner had two kills and an ace to put Liberty away 25-20.
Maddie Fogg had 28 assists and Lauren Nichols led with 14 digs for the Patriots, who settled for second in the Central with the setback.
“(They) dug a lot of balls back there and gave us an opportunity,” Chapman said.
The Patriots close out the regular season at Thomas Worthington Thursday night before opening tournament play Oct. 21 at home against the winner of the Lancaster-Logan matchup Oct. 19.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.