SOUTHINGTON — Three ball-handling mistakes late in the fourth game Saturday night put an emphatic halt to a Blue Knights’ rally and allowed visiting Staples of Westport to regain the momentum and defeat Southington, 3-1, in a match-up between two of the perennial powers in boys volleyball.
Staples, which lost to the Blue Knights in the state tournament semifinals last spring, won the first two games before Southington took Game 3. The Blue Knights led for most of the fourth game — but never by more than five points — before the pivotal errors in passing. Staples erased a 21-18 deficit by scoring seven of the final eight points and earned a 25-22 win in the last game.
The Blue Knights (2-1), who defeated Maloney on Thursday and Farmington on Friday, won Game 3 by 26-24, surviving match point by the Wreckers at 24-23. Staples won the opening game 25-20 and built its 2-0 lead with a 25-21 win in Game 2.
Staples improved to 2-0.
All four games were tight. Most of the action featured switches in momentum at nearly regular intervals.
“In the fourth game, the key was our last three ball-handling attempts,” said Southington coach Lou Gianacopoulos, also the Platt girls coach in the fall.
“Volleyball is a game of momentum. A couple of kills or a couple of digs can change it,” he said.
Staples faced deficits of 12-8 and 15-10 in the fourth game before relying on Jason Bernstein, Christopher Delaurentis and Jared Himmel to spark a rally, ultimately capitalizing late when Southington’s passing faltered.
Senior captain Mark Horanzy paced the Blue Knights with 21 kills in 40 attempts. They started to come back when Gianacopoulos inserted Adam Brush into a setter’s role in the third game. Brush had 13 kills for the match but only two attempts in the first two games before the coach’s switch.
Himmel had 16 kills and six digs; Bernstein supplied 42 assists; Delaurentis contributed three aces, 10 kills and five blocks. Sophomore Brian Durocher was effective at times as the Blue Knights’ setter, and junior Mike Aberzik had a strong hitting game with some timely kills.
Gianacopoulos said one of Southington’s top servers missed a number of serves. He said the Blue Knights’ serving was not aggressive as it needed to be.
“We had a 92 percent service accuracy. That means we were not aggressive enough. We needed to take some risks,” he said.
The Wreckers’ defense was better than Southington’s as Staples assumed its 2-game-to-0 lead. Aside from the tactical switch of adding another setter for the third game, the Blue Knights got back into the match by picking up their defensive game, though Gianacopoulos said neither team’s defense was stellar.
“I thought this was a battle of attrition,” said Staples coach Dan Cho. “We were keeping our composure. For us, it was a matter of believing in what works for us, and that’s great defense, getting passes and to be ready for defending against them.”
Each coach discounted the notion that this was a revenge game from last year’s final four.
From 2008 to 2010, Southington and Staples met three times for the Class L title, with the FCIAC school winning the first two championships and the Blue Knights taking the 2010 crown. In 2011, the Wreckers won the semifinal matchup; in 2012, they won in the quarterfinals but they did not face each other in the 2013 playoffs.
Cho is fairly certain, he said, they’ll be paired against each other. They are scheduled to play in the 2016 regular season in Westport.
“It was a nice win,” said Cho, who acknowledged there had been no talk of revenge as motivation for the match. “It’s still way too early in the season. I’m looking forward to playing them again. Southington is a strong opponent for us.”
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