VOLLEYBALL: Sweep & a stunner in LL! Knights advance; Rams ousted by rival’s rally

SOUTHINGTON — One local Class LL volleyball titan let a 2-0 lead slip away in the state quarterfinals Saturday night. The other was having no part of that.

While No. 2 Cheshire was stunned by SCC rival Amity, 3-2, No. 5 Southington was all business against Staples of Westport, sweeping the No. 20 Wreckers 3-0.

Thus, Southington moves on to Wednesday’s state semifinals at 22-2 and riding an 18-match winning streak. Cheshire, which had 22 wins and a 14-match run of its own, signs off at 22-3.

The Blue Knights posted game scores of 25-22, 25-23 and 25-18. Cheshire, after taking the opening sets 25-22 and 25-17, fell 25-18, 30-28 and 15-10.

Southington will meet the winner of the quarterfinal between No. 1 Darien (19-0) and No. 9 Greenwich (18-4). That match doesn’t get played until Monday.

The semis will be Wednesday at a neutral site and time to be announced. Amity, the No. 7 seed and now 21-4 overall, takes on No. 14 Trumbull (17-6) in the other semifinal.

On Saturday, the Lady Knights were led by Natalee Grindle, who finished with 11 kills.

“We had perseverance today,” said Southington coach Rich Heitz. “We did what we had to do. It’s about surviving and advancing when you get to this time, and we persevered.”

Wreckers head coach Jon Shepro thought his team showed grit and determination against a higher seed.

“We came up here and put up a great fight against a really good team,” Shepro said. “I thought the first two games were super-close and could have gone either way.”

Indeed, the first game was a heart-pounding thrill ride as both teams went back-and-forth throughout the period.

The Knights started strong with kills from Katrina Possidento and Cami Wessels to take a 3-0 lead. However, two unforced errors let the Wreckers cut the lead to 3-2.

In response, Possidento and Wessels put down more kills. Then Grindle entered the fray with back-to-back spikes.  

Staples, though, would not let down, keeping pace for the first half of the set.  

After the Wreckers came back to tie the game at 12-12, the two teams engaged in a near minute and a half rally that ended with a Southington hit that sailed out of bounds and gained the Wreckers gained their first lead, 13-12.

Southington regained the advantage 16-15 after some good volley play, but Staples continued to respond. Some miscommunications from the Knights gave the Wreckers the lead at 17-16.

Southington, though, came back strong to regain the lead 21-20 after a few unforced errors by Staples and proceeded to put away the first game 25-22.

“There were times where we did what we needed to do,” Heitz said. “But there were also times where Staples had some good servers and they didn’t miss a lot of serves. We missed some of our serves.”

Game 2 ooked like it was going to be an easy Southington victory. The Blue Knights got out to a 14-8 lead.

The Wreckers battled back, closing to 14-11 and, after Southington reforged a 17-12 lead, rallying again to within 19-18.

The rest of the set was back and forth. In the end, the Knights held on to win 25-23.

“We dug a little bit of a hole in the first two games that we really couldn’t get out of,” Shepro said. “We made it close, but we couldn’t come up with it. That was a good team out there today.”

In the third game, tensions between Shepro and the officials flared after some questionable calls. After a ball that was called out of bounds against Staples, Shepro argued the call and later sarcastically cheered after the line judge called a ball inbounds for the Wreckers.

After the game, however, Shepro said that the referees called the game well.

Southington led for much of the third game and this time never let down, winning the game and match, 25-18.

Heitz said that the team went back to playing its game going into the third set.

“We didn’t really need any adjustments,” he said.  “We just needed to get back to our mindset.”

Looking ahead to the semifinals, Heitz said his team must improve on its serving before Wednesday night.

“We need to be a little more consistent with it going into next game,” the veteran coach said.


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