WOONSOCKET — If Mount St. Charles planned to overcome a tough opponent and earn a spot in next Tuesday night’s Division I semifinals, the Mounties were going to have to do something they hadn’t done during the regular season.
Win a five-set match.
After going 0-for-3 in matches that were decided by 3-2 scores, the Mounties were able to cap a two-hour thriller with visiting North Kingstown on Wednesday afternoon with an impressive 15-12 victory in their quarterfinal-round matchup.
“We lost those three (regular-season) matches in five (sets) by a combined total of seven points,” said MSC coach Josh D’Abate, whose team will head to the Providence Career & Technical Academy next week for a 7:30 p.m. battle against the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal-round matchup between Cranston East and Coventry. “They were tight games, so we’ve battled in these matches before. It’s been said that the season’s for the playoffs, and that’s what tonight was.”
In that final set, the Mounties, who improved to 12-5 and have now won four straight, and the Skippers (also 12-5) spent a good chunk of it exchanging the lead back and forth before Mount erased an 8-7 deficit with five straight points and never lost the lead.
Sophomore Steven Ward, who had just five kills in the match, came up big with a pair of kills during that run, the second giving the hosts a 12-8 lead and forcing Skippers coach Joanne Fitts to burn her second time-out of the set. The Skippers managed to cut their deficit to 14-12, but Matt Kearns ended the drama and the match with a kill.
Kearns was one of four seniors on the team who ended up heading to Mount’s Senior Commencement Dinner that night a little late, but in the end, it didn’t matter at all to that group, who turned in rock-solid performances to fuel the winner’s cause.
No senior had a bigger game than outside hitter Matt Lepine, who delivered arguably his best performance as a Mountie with career-highs in kills (21) and digs (12). King University-bound middle hitter Chris Gerber had another stellar day at the office with 18 kills and five blocks, setter Ryan Durand handed out 44 assists, and Kearns added a dozen kills.
Junior Eli Tousignant also gave the Mounties a lift at the net with seven blocks.
Both teams split the first two sets, which were close from start to finish and only saw one lead as big as five points. The Mounties broke a 22-22 tie in the opener to grab a 25-23 victory, but the Skippers evened the match in the second set by scoring 10 of their final 12 points to rally to a 25-21 triumph.
The third set was also a close affair until the Mounties, who held an 18-15 lead, fell victim to a set-ending 10-point run by the Skippers that saw the hosts make their share of errors along the way.
“I wasn’t going to call a time-out,” said D’Abate. “I really felt like even though we lost that game, the match was in a position for us to win. I really thought that (the players) needed to figure out if they could do it on their own or we needed to help them out. They didn’t get the job done there, but they came out in Games 4 and 5 and just kind of took that as a wake-up call and really played well.”
Their backs against the wall, the Mounties answered the challenge in the fourth set with a 25-21 victory that saw them break a 7-7 tie by scoring eight of the next 11 points. Their largest lead of the match came in this set and it was a 23-16 command.
The Skippers also came into this match red-hot with victories in five of their last six contests. Before they went on that winning run, the Skippers dropped a 3-0 verdict to the Mounties back on May 9, but by close scores of 25-23, 25-20, and 28-26.
“The scores were close the first time around and I figured it might have been a matchup situation the first time,” said D’Abate. “I noticed they had (junior standout) Garrett (Bucklin) setting a 6-2 tonight to get him a lot more involved that they did the first time around, and I think that helped their offense. But they have great kids and great coaching, and I expected them to come in and fight tonight.”
(Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24)