CIAC VOLLEYBALL: Semifinal drama in five acts puts Cheshire on championshp stage

HARTFORD — Coming into the spring season, Cheshire boys volleyball head coach Sue Bavone wanted her team to fight to the last point in every match.

That attitude paid dividends in the Class M semifinals on Tuesday night at Sport and Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford.

CHS watched Farmington win Game 4 to tie the match at 2-2. Then the River Hawks won four of the opening five points in the fifth set.

Under pressure, the Rams rallied to take the final frame 15-12 and clinch a 3-2 victory. The final linescore: 23-25, 25-23, 25-19, 16-25 and 15-12.

No. 6 Cheshire improved to 21-4 and advances to Friday night’s Class M final against No. 4 Masuk (20-4) back at Sport & Medical Sciences Academy at 6 p.m. No. 10 Farmington finished the year at 12-11.

“There were a lot of errors tonight; it was such a frenetic match,” said Bavone. “It was good to pull this one out.”

With the Rams trailing 4-1 in the fifth set, junior outside hitter Connor Hayes put down a kill to ignite a 6-0 run to the lead.

“Coach (Bavone) came in the huddle and cracked a joke,” said senior Jason Cafourek. “That is all we needed to get going.”

Cheshire extended its advantage to 10-6 and had the lead for good, though Farmington did cut the deficit to a point three times (11-10, 12-11, 13-12).

A kill from Hayes earned match point. Seconds later, the River Hawks sent a hit out of bounds and the Rams celebrated the victory on the court.

“I was nervous serving that (last) point, but at the end, I found the right person to target with the ball,” explained sophomore Matti Lilback. “That gave me confidence.”

The first two sets played out similarly, with both teams giving up leads at the end. In Game 1, the River Hawks ran off four points to tie at 13-13, but Cheshire retook the lead on kills by Hayes and Cafourek.

The Rams went up 20-16 on a block by Lilback, however, Farmington won seven of the next nine points. After CHS tied the frame at 23-23, the River Hawks claimed the next two points to win game one.

Farmington enior Excel Adekola clinched the set with a kill.

“We were expecting to get a lot of fight from them,” reflected Cafourek. “Losing that first set was a wake-up call. It locked in our focus for the rest of the night.”

Farmington carried momentum into the second set, jumping out to a 5-1 advantage. Cheshire battled to pull to within a point four times, but the hitting of Adekola and junior Alex Scerrato helped the River Hawks keep the lead midway through the game.

Farmington appeared to be on the verge of taking a 2-0 lead in the match, but in a key sequence Cheshire used a five-point run to erase a 23-20 deficit and win the second set. Cafourek supplied a kill to tie the game at 23-23. Sophomore Jacob D’Addona served an ace to end it.

“We needed that (game),” said Bavone. “I don’t think we win that match if we go down 2-0.”

Despite missing a combined 11 serves in the first two sets, the Rams gained confidence after tying up the contest.

“It was huge,” said Cafourek. “Volleyball is a game of momentum. It picked up our energy to win that (second) set.”

Farmington raced out to an 8-4 lead in Game 3. Cheshire answered with a 4-0 spurt and proceeded to take a 19-16 advantage.

The River Hawks claimed the next two points, but Cafourek came up with a timely kill to ignite a 5-1 finish to the game. Lilback recorded a block on set point.

“It was important,” Lilback said. “We were having trouble blocking early, but it felt great to get that one.”

With the season on the line, Farmington responded by building a 7-2 lead in Game 4. The River Hawks earned the night’s biggest lead (14-6) and proceeded to tie the match.

“I thought their defense was phenomenal; they got everything back tonight,” said Bavone. “I thought we struggled transitioning into our offense.”

The Rams were still able to pull out the fifth set to extend their current win streak to eight matches. Setter Matt Irizarry finished with 46 assists and five digs.

Hayes earned a career-high 16 kills, adding three digs, an assist and a block. Junior Will Allen tallied 13 kills, six digs and an ace.

Cafourek posted eight kills, five digs, an ace and a block. Lilback contributed seven kills and three blocks. D’Addona added five kills, two digs and an ace.

The last team standing in Cheshire’s way is Masuk, which beat No. 9 New Canaan in its semifinals. Cheshire and Masuk met in the regular season, with the Panthers sweeping the Rams 3-0 in Cheshire on April 20.

“I think that was our worst match of the season,” recalled Bavone. “I feel that we are a different team right now. I like that we get two days of practice for this next match.”

This will be Cheshire’s first state final appearance since falling 3-1 to Newington in 2019. As a program, the Rams won state titles (Class L) in 2011 and 2012.

“I’m so excited,” Cafourek said. “It is a great opportunity for us.”


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