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PROVIDENCE â€” Less than two months ago, Coventry dealt Mount St. Charles its most agonizing loss of the regular season. On Tuesday night, the Oakers handed the Mounties the defeat that hurt them the most â€“ the one that ousted them from the Division I playoffs.
The unbeaten Oakers rebounded from an opening-set loss and moved one win away from their first state championship since 1995 by rolling to a 3-1 triumph over the Mounties in their semifinal-round clash at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house.
The Oakers, who seized the match by scores of 17-25, 25-20, 25-23, and 25-19, will face South Kingstown, a 3-0 winner over East Providence in their semifinal-rounder earlier in the night, in Thursdayâ€™s 7:30 p.m. title match back on the PCTAâ€™s court.
The triumph was the 19th for the high-flying Oakers, with 10 of them being shutouts and only three of them lasting five sets, including their April 25 victory over the Mounties.
That match was a nailbiter from start to finish, with four of the five games being decided by two points. The Mounties captured the first two games before dropping the next three and the finale by a tough-to-swallow 15-13 score.
Tuesdayâ€™s rematch didnâ€™t offer the non-stop thrills of the first match, but it was clearly a battle that could have gone either way. But in the end, the verdict came down to the team who made the fewest mistakes, and that turned out to be the Oakers.
â€śTheyâ€™re a great team,â€ť Mount coach Josh Dâ€™Abate noted of Coventry. â€śThey have good guys all around, but I honestly thought this was a match that could have gone either way.
I thought it was a great matchup for us in the middle, and I thought our blocking on the right side would kind of neutralize some of their weapons on the outside, and when you look at the scores, they were all close games.
â€śIâ€™m really proud of my guys. They worked really hard. But (Coventry) is an undefeated team for a reason. They limited some of their mistakes, and we made a couple too many.â€ť
Sparked by the strong net play of senior quad-captains Chris Gerber and Matt Kearns, the Mounties could do no wrong at the start of the opening game. They broke out to leads of 5-0 and 15-7 (forcing Coventry coach Jon Bartlett to call a time-out on both occasions) and led by as many as 11 (21-10) before rolling to the victory.
â€śIn the first game, we didnâ€™t make the mistakes,â€ť added Dâ€™Abate. â€śThat (first) game was great. If thatâ€™s how we played all season, weâ€™d still be playing.â€ť
The second game offered more excitement, but the Knotty Oakers copped the decision by breaking a 20-20 tie with the final five points. Coventry had led for most of the game, but never by more than four points, and Mount only led twice at 11-10 and 19-18.
The third game followed the same script as the first â€“ only it was the Knotty Oakers that took charge from the start, rolling out to leads of 10-2, 15-4, and 19-8.
But thatâ€™s when the Mounties tried to turn around their fortunes. They rallied back for the next nine points to climb to within two (19-17) and managed to knot the contest at 22-22 before the Oakers gathered themselves and found a way to squeak out the win.
â€śYou canâ€™t give a good team an 11-point lead,â€ť added Dâ€™Abate. â€śBut give some credit to our guys. Down 11, they didnâ€™t quit, and they came back and tied it at 22. Thatâ€™s a hell of a comeback, but when youâ€™re down 11, sometimes you donâ€™t have the energy to finish it off.â€ť
Their backs against the wall, the Mounties did everything they possibly could to force a fifth game, and like the second game, both teams hooked up in a nailbiter. But with the score deadlocked at 18-18, the Oakers netted seven of the last eight points to secure the game and their spot in the finals.
Standout middle hitter Frank Field, who delivered the kill that ended the match, finished the night with a team-high 20 kills to go with eight digs and three blocks. His partner-in-crime at the net, Devin Paiva, added 19 kills and 10 digs, and setter Ryan Buglio handed out 46 assists.
The Mounties, who will graduate four senior captains from this yearâ€™s 12-6 club, received solid efforts from each of them. Gerber sparkled at the net with 16 kills and four blocks, setter Ryan Durand dished out 36 assists and had six blocks, Kearns added 12 kills and five digs, and Matt Lepine had four kills and six digs.
Mount also received six blocks from junior Eli Tousignant and five kills from sophomore Steven Ward.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24