KINGSTON — For the first time in its long history, Cumberland will play for a state championship.
The Clippers earned a berth in Saturday’s Division II championship match on Wednesday night by surviving a hard-fought 3-1 triumph over a Central Falls team that was determined to spring its second upset victory of the playoffs at URI’s Keaney Gymnasium.
Senior standouts Micaela Malboeuf (13 kills, 25 digs) and Michelle Malboeuf (11 kills, 20 digs) had big games for the Clippers, who defeated the Warriors by scored of 25-18, 25-19, 22-25, and 27-25 to advance.
“Like I keep telling everyone else, this team is something special,” remarked Cumberland coach Sherri Heard, whose team claimed its fifth straight match. “This team loves playing together and being with each other, and it shows on the court.”
The Clippers will surely have their hands full in their 3 p.m. title game when they lock horns with top-seeded and defending champion Exeter/West Greenwich. The Scarlet Knights, who posted a 3-1 win over fourth-seeded West Warwick in the other semifinal, are 16-0 and have lost just three sets all year long.
“EWG is definitely a great fundamental team,” said Heard. “We have to play our best game, and if we can do that, I think it will be a very good match.”
But before the Division II-North champion and third-seeded Clippers (14-2) could look ahead to the Knights, they had to deal with a determined foe in the Warriors, who split their regular season series with the Clippers.
The seventh-seeded Warriors (13-4) were also coming off their 3-1 upset win over previously-unbeaten Bay View in Monday’s quarterfinals that raised a lot of eyebrows throughout the division and was definitely on Heard’s mind as the teams took the court.
“They are definitely a team that doesn’t give up,” Heard said of the Warriors. “I told the girls that (C.F.) was not going to give up at any point of this match and they played great too.”
The Clippers were in control for most the opening game and rode the hitting of middle hitters Robyn Andrade and Samantha Bertherman to leads of 11-5 and 21-11. The Warriors managed to strike late and cut their deficit to 23-18, but Cumberland answered back with the next two points to seal the win.
The second game was more competitive, with neither team holding more than a three-point lead. But with the score tied at 13-13, the Clippers ran off four straight points (and eight of the next 10) and never looked back.
In the third game, Cumberland roared out to a 3-0 lead behind the service of Bertherman (two aces), but C.F. came back to tie the score at 7-7, and again, from that point on, both teams exchanged the lead back and forth and neither could grab more than a three-point cushion.
But with the score tied at 22-22, the Warriors notched the next three points, one coming on a kill by Brianna Cooley, to win the game.
The next game started out like the third, with the Clippers taking a quick 5-0 lead and the Warriors bravely battling back to tie the score at 9-9.
This time, the Clippers responded by rattling off 10 of the next 14 points, but again, the Warriors, who took advantage of a handful of mistakes by the Clippers, answered back to tie the score at 21-21.
After both teams traded the next eight points, the Clippers squeaked out the next two points to clinch the game and the match on a kill by Leblanc and a serve by Bertheman that was misplayed by the Warriors.
Sarah Spearen also had 17 assists for the Clippers, Bertherman had 14 digs, and Taylor Lariviere added a dozen. The Warriors were led by Cooley’s 13 kills and also received some solid play from Kayla Camara, Anjelique Cooley, Roniza Fortes, and Sasha Gonzalez.
“I’m very proud of my team,” admitted C.F. coach Richard Sousa. “We just beat an undefeated team in Bay View, and before that, we beat a team that played in the championship match last year in Burrillville. We had a tough road to get here and I couldn’t be prouder of this team.”