CUMBERLAND — After shaking off some rust in the first game, Cumberland High went into playoff mode and is now just two big wins from the school's first-ever state championship.
Fueled by an outstanding night from junior Sam Bertherman and a solid all-around effort from her teammates, the third-seeded Clippers swept by No. 6 seed Tolman, 3-0, in the Division II quarterfinals on Monday at the Wellness Center. Cumberland won with scores of 25-23, 25-4, 25-9.
“Our first game our jitters were getting the best of us. I was getting a little nervous. I thought it might be a five-game match,” said Cumberland coach Sherri Heard, whose team captured the II-North title with a 12-2 record. “Once we got into the second game our serve was on. Sam led the way serving right off the bat and that just carried us and put us in the right direction.”
Bertherman finished the night with five kills, five aces and nine digs. She did most of her damage in the second game. After the Clippers held off a determined Tiger squad in the opening game, one that included several lead changes in the late stages, Bertherman went to work on her opponent from the service line.
With her patented “knuckleball” serve, Bertherman rattled off nine straight service points that featured a trio of aces and a slam by the senior middle hitter from the back court.
The Clippers built their advantage to 14-3, and after the Tigers managed a point, Cumberland scored the final 11 points to take its two-game lead.
The Clippers took control right away in the third set, too. Cumberland jumped to an 8-1 lead, increased its cushion to 17-9 and finished off the Tigers with eight unanswered points.
Bertherman was clearly the spark plug for the Clippers with her effectiveness from the service line.
“She always has a very good serve,” Heard said. “She's always our first server every game. It always depends if its going to be that knuckleballer coming down as a floater or it's just going to be going over the net. Today, it was just unstoppable.”
Cumberland also benefited from a Tolman team that just appeared out of sync the final two games. The Tigers (11-3 in II-North), a 3-1 winner over No. 11 seed Tiverton in their preliminary match, were twice beaten by the Clippers during the regular season.
“Give Cumberland credit for taking us out of our game,” Tolman coach Roger Tow said. “We completely lost our composure. It got to the point where, at the end of the match, we couldn't even pass it. We couldn't even get it over the net. I don't know what happened. They were pumped. They were ready. We prepared well. But our game plan fell apart kind of early.”
“Volleyball is about execution,” he continued. “They were able to execute and we weren't. We had to play well to beat them. They already beat us twice. We had a chance to beat them in the first game. Then after that, the second game, we just got steamrolled and that was it.”
The Tigers committed an abundance of unforced errors. In the second game, the Tigers had seven in a row at one point. Junior Ana Espinal had just five kills, tops among her teammates.
“It just wasn't meant to be,” Tow said.
Senior Michelle Malboeuf finished with nine kills and 11 digs, senior Micaela LeBlanc had nine digs and 11 kills and senior Sarah Spearen contributed 13 assists for Cumberland.
“I knew we had the capabilities to do it today,” Heard said. “It just depended on whether or not all seven girls playing on the floor had their minds into it.”
The Clippers earned a date in the semifinals this Wednesday night against Central Falls, which upset Bay View last night. That match will be played at 7:30 p.m. at URI's Keaney Gymnasium.
“This team is really special because we have something that most teams don't with their jayvee and varsity,” Heard said. “We all get along. I think that really has helped us this year.”