WEST GREENWICH — A little bit more of this, a little bit less of that, and the situation could've been vastly different inside the Exeter/West Greenwich High gymnasium on Tuesday night.
So said Cumberland High head coach Ruth Plante after she watched the Scarlet Knights capture a not-as-easy-as-it-seemed 3-0 triumph over her Clippers in a R.I. Division II Tournament quarterfinal.
“We did everything pretty well but block and dig,” Plante explained after her squad suffered consecutive defeats of 25-21, 25-18, 25-16 and ultimately was ousted from the event. “We served great; we only had three bad serves through the entire match. Our big problem was we knew who was getting the ball (for kill chances), but we couldn't do enough to stop them. We just didn't block well enough.”
The mentor had been referring to Exeter/West Greenwich's tall, powerful, middle-hitting tandem of junior captain Jennifer Donnelly and sophomore Jenna Bridges. The former put away a match-high 15 kills (with two digs and a pair of aces mixed in), while the latter managed a dozen kills and four blocks.
Other important ingredients in the Scarlet Knights' recipe for victory were junior setter Michaela Vivian (27 assists); classmates Lauren Unsworth (three kills, two digs) and Rachel Hanna (kill, three digs); and senior Bridget Laferriere (two aces).
With those outings, EWG – the South's No. 2 seed behind Narragansett though still the three-time defending R.I. D-II champion – took a step closer to its fourth straight crown. It will take on the winner of the North's top-ranked team Barrington and the South's No. 4 Cranston West in a semifinal slated for Thursday (6 p.m.) at the University of Rhode Island's Keaney Gym.
The Clippers, who were the North's No. 3 seed, closed their campaign at 14-5 overall. They nevertheless recorded some critical statistics. Senior middle hitter Erin Rosa completed her volleyball career with a team-high eight kills, eight blocks and two aces, while classmate Kate Engels posted 10 digs, four kills, two caroms and a pair of aces.
Junior setter Hannah Ratcliffe gathered 17 assists and a squad-leading five aces, with senior Olivia Sherman notched six digs and four kills and sophomore Taylor Fay five digs.
“Basically, they just those two hitters,” Plante noted afterward. “I wanted our girls to forget about everyone else and try to block them. (Donnelly) is a lefty, and that may have kept (our defense) off-balance.
“Still, those two girls (Donnelly and Bridges) put the ball away. I thought we did a fantastic job of hitting around their blocks, and we kept grinding. It just wasn't enough.”
In the initial game, turned an early 4-3 lead into a 9-4 advantage, later extending it to 15-7 after consecutive Bridges kills. Slowly, however, Cumberland closed the gap on Ratcliffe's service. Trailing 17-12 when it started, it took advantage of a trio of unforced EWG digging errors, a Rosa block and an ace to tie the tilt for the first time at 17-17.
The Scarlet Knights regained the advantage when a Clipper was whistled for hitting the net. Not long after, sophomore Kayleigh Canavan drilled a kill, and – with Rosa at the stripe – Cumberland took its first lead at 20-19.
Unfortunately, her next serve proved too strong, and Donnelly created four straight points before junior Hailey Smith's crushed drive gave CHS the sideout.
With Sherman serving, though, Bridges knocked a spike off an opposing dig to seal the game at 25-21.
A fantastic Rosa block ignited Plante's bunch at the start of the second, and Engels mustered three more consecutive service points to give it a 4-0 cushion.
Thanks to a Donnelly kill, the Scarlet Knights notched five straight to garner a 5-4 lead. The hosts slowly pulled away; Cumberland did slice the deficit to three (the last at 18-15), but Unsworth's serve and a pair of Bridges kills, not to mention a pair of unforced miscues on the visitors' side, propelled EWG to a 25-18 win.
The final point came when Canavan fired a spike just wide.
As for the final game, the Clippers again took a quick 2-0 lead. Over the next several minutes, the tilt was tied 10 times, the last at 15-all after the Scarlet Knights were called for a “double-hit.”
On the very next serve, refs whistled Cumberland for the same infraction before Rosa's carom went wide and a kill chance ripped off the cord. With the score 19-16, junior Shania Fenton served up six straight points – with help from an Unsworth kill and the same's spike off a dig – to end the match.
The final point came when senior Katie McCaffrey's kill try clipped the netting.
“We didn't know much about Cumberland coming in, as we didn't have any crossover matches against them,” offered EWG head coach Josh Bednarczyk, whose club moved to 16-4 overall. “We have a good offense, no doubt, but we need solid passing to make it work. We did an atrocious job of that in the first game.
“I thought Cumberland did a great job of returning a lot of our serves, but I thought our experience (in the playoffs) helped us,” he continued. “Jen and Jenna are really powerful hitters, and they can put the ball away. They knew they were going to get at least a free ball if one of their hits didn't go for a kill.”
When asked the degree of disappointment she felt, Plante smiled sadly, “You always want to go to the next round, but there's not a lot you can do. We just had to block and dig better. Those are always the things you need in the playoffs. We did some of that, but we needed more of it.”