KINGSTON --- After handing Mount St. Charles its most lopsided defeat of the regular season, Coventry found a way to deal the Mounties an agonizingly close loss on Wednesday night in the Division I semifinals.
Owners of a 14-13 lead in a back-and-forth fifth and deciding game, the Mounties were unable to tally the magical 15th point that would have sent them to Saturday’s 5 p.m. championship match back at URI’s Keaney Gym.
Instead, the defending champion Oakers fought off match point to tie the game and followed that with two pressure-packed points to come away with an exciting 3-2 triumph.
The Oakers (16-2) seized the first set by a 25-20 score and the Mounties (15-3) evened the match by taking the second, 25-21. After Coventry took a 25-22 victory in the third set, Mount sent the match to the limit by winning the fourth, 25-22.
It was the third straight year that the Mounties saw a splendid regular season (that saw them win the Division I-North championship) fall short in the semifinals, but unlike the last two exits, this one stung.
In the winner-take-all final game, the Mounties broke out to a 7-3 lead, but the Oakers answered back with a seven-point run that gave them the lead.
A kill by Erin Potter got MSC back on the board, but the Oakers scored the next two points to up their lead to 12-8. After a time-out by the Mounties, they foguht back with the next three points, and this time, it was the Oakers who needed a time-out to regroup.
After both teams traded the next two points, the Mounties scored the next three points and found themselves one point away from victory. It was a point they were unable to get.
“It’s such a tough thing to get over,” said MSC coach Josh D’Abate. “These girls played so hard tonight and they worked so hard during the season. This (loss) was tough.”
During the regular season, no defeat was tougher to swallow that the 3-0 setback suffered by the Mounties back on Sept. 27, but they shook that loss off to claim eight of their next nine matches and enter Wednesday’s showdown with a seven-match win streak.
The Mounties got off to a rough start in the opening set and never recovered, trailing by as many as seven points before losing by five.
But they turned things around at the start of the second and raced out to an 8-2 lead behind three kills by Meaghan Walsh and a pair of aces by Kelsey Gainor, forcing the Oakers to call their first time-out of the night.
The Knotty Oakers did their best to get back into the contest and cut their deficit to three on two occasions, but aside from that and a four-point run late in the game, they never threatened.
The Oakers’ worst game of the night may have been the third, as errors plagued them from start to finish, but thanks to a 6-1 run that snapped an early 5-5 draw, they were able to scratch out a win. Three times, the Mounties were able to pull to within a point of the Knotty Oakers, but each time, they weren’t able to tie the score.
Their backs against the wall in the fourth set, the Mounties responded, zooming out to leads of 11-5 and 18-11 that forced the Oakers to again burn time-outs.
After the Mounties took a double-digit lead, 21-11, the Oakers made things very interesting by rattling off seven points to cut their deficit to 23-21, but Mount was able to net the two points it needed to force an action-packed final game.
“This was a good match,” noted D’Abate. “The whole match was back and forth, and the scores were close in each game.”
As has been the case throughout the season, the Mounties’ seniors stepped up big on this night. Setter Carissa Gould dished out 44 assists, and MSC got a fairly balanced attack at the net from Walsh (16 kills), Gainor (12 kills, seven blocks), Kim D'Alessandro (13 kills), and Potter (eight kills).
Lindsay Morin also contributed 15 digs, D’Alessandro had nine, and Gould, Walsh, and Gainor each added eight.