SOUTHINGTON — Should we have expected anything less?
Two of the top high school boys volleyball teams in the state picked up Tuesday night where they left off a month ago, and once again Southington outlasted Newington 3-2 to remain unbeaten on the season.
The Blue Knights won the fifth game 15-10 to clinch the CCC West title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament.
Last month, Southington won at Newington in five games. The Blue Knights (18-0) are the only team this season to beat Newington (18-2).
Southington is ranked No. 1 in Class L, while the Indians are the two-time defending Class M champions and also ranked No. 1 this season in Class M.
“It’s high-quality volleyball because it’s two solid programs,” Southington head coach Lou Gianacopolos said. “It always feels like a playoff atmosphere.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this (Southington) team is special. I’ve had special teams before, but this team is little more connected. It’s senior strong, a family. There is very little selfishness out there.”
Gianacopolos should know a “special” team when he sees one. The coach has been in charge of Southington’s boys volleyball since its inception in 2003. Gianacopolos led Southington to the 2010 state championship and his teams have played in seven state title matches.
Newington, meanwhile, has won five of the past seven Class M state titles, including the last two, and is seeking to make it a three-peat this season. The Indians beat two-time defending Massachusetts Division I state champion Westfield on Monday night.
Once again, Southington and Newington brought the best out of each other. The first three games were won at deuce, with the Blue Knights winning the first game 30-28 and third 28-26. Newington won the second game 26-24 and forced a fifth game by winning the fourth 25-17.
“We put on a good show for the crowd,” said Southington senior Tim Walsh, who led the Blue Knights with 22 kills. “(Five games) isn’t what we want, but it always seems to wind up happening.
“After the first set, we had a good amount of momentum, but we just couldn’t finish the second game. Then after we won the third game, we thought we had it in the bag, but they battled back.”
Unlike their first encounter this season, when Southington rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win in five games, the teams split the first four games. And with momentum shifting from side to side, it was Brett Hunter’s block of Newington’s 6-foot-5 Mason Romano early in the fifth game that turned the tide in Southington’s favor for good.
The athletic Romano had his way at the net all night with game-high 27 kills. He and 6-foot-7 Teddy Fravel combined for 40 kills and came up with big blocks and kills whenever the Indians needed them.
But with the match on the line, Brett Hunter’s stuff gave the Blue Knights a 5-2 lead.
Twin brother Adam Hunter’s kill and two by Walsh extended Southington’s advantage to 10-5. Two more points off swings by Rocco Possidento stretch the lead to 13-7.
Adam Hunter then closed out the match with a block and his 21st kill of the night.
“I just put my hands up and, honestly, the ball fell to the floor so fast that I didn’t know if we got the point or not,” Brett Hunter said. “But I saw our side of stands just explode.
“(Romano and Fravel) were just putting the ball down like crazy,” added Brett Hunter. “Honestly, there wasn’t much we could do to stop them. But eventually we got our hands in front of the ball and some nice digs.”
While Hunter’s block was big, just as important were the emotions it brought out in him. With the crowd going wild, the Blue Knights were able to feed off Hunter’s inspired play down the stretch.
“What he did moments after (the block) — the excitement and adrenalin — that was sincere,” Gianacopolos said.
“Even though we have a matchup advantage with our size, I thought (Brett Hunter) was huge,” Newington head coach Curt Burns said.
“The first three games were all extra time, but to their credit they jumped on us (in the fifth game). And once we fell behind, in a short game, it’s tough to come back, but we gave it a shot.”
The teams were tied 12-12 in the fourth game before Newington went on a 8-3 run to lead 20-15. Southington never was able to recover as the Indians closed out the game behind Romano and Fravel.
The first two games saw neither team lead by more than four points.
Southington took the night’s biggest lead at the time, 22-17, in the third game. Newington came back to tie the game 24-24 before the Blue Knight got two kills by Adam Hunter and the winning point from Brett Hunter.
Southington broke a 17-17 tie in the first game behind Walsh and Adam Hunter to take a 21-18 lead. The Blue Knights led 24-20 after a Brett Hunter block of Fravel. Brandon Wolf’s kill provided Southington with the winning point.