Red Raiders Stumble But Refuse To Fall, Advance To State Finals
By: Tom Moran Jr.
It turned out to be one of those things you had to see to believe.
After playing its two worst games of the season, back-to-back no less, to open the Division 1 state semifinal match against North Sectional champ Andover, the Barnstable High girls’ volleyball team put up one for the ages, battling back from the brink of disaster to stun the Golden Warriors 3-2 at Bridgewater-Raynham High School on Wednesday.
Coming off a grueling five-game match win over New Bedford, the Red Raiders came out flat and were dominated by the Warriors at every turn in the first two games but showed that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog that matters most.
For the Red Raiders, the five-game match was their second in four days and fifth of the season and the win over Andover moved their record to 4-1 in those contests.
In running their record to 20-2, the Red Raiders dropped the first two games by 15-25 and 23-25 margins before regrouping and handing the Golden Warriors (24-1) their first loss of the season by scratching and clawing their way to the 25-20, 29-27, 15-9 victories that will send them on to the D1 state championship meet against Central-West champ Lincoln-Sudbury, a 3-1 winner over the Central-East’s North Quincy.
The Red Raiders found out quickly that the Golden Warriors were going to be a handful as AHS hitters Moira Cronin and Ava Bakhtyari teamed up on a block that gave Andover the contest’s first point.
There wasn’t much upside for the Red Raiders from that point on as the Warriors took the lead for good at 4-3 and made good use of a slew of Barnstable mistakes. Bad decisions, bad passes, you name it, it was bad for the Red Raiders as the Andover lead grew steadily until the last Barnstable error of the game gave the Warriors the 25-15 win and a 1-0 lead.
The Red Raiders were more competitive in the second game but again, they did not do enough things right to beat a good team like Andover.
After falling behind 8-3 in what seemed like a blink of an eye, the Red Raiders ran off a six-point scoring run to take an 9-8 lead.
That lead was short-lived as Bakhtyari, Cronin and outside hitter Sarah Arvidson found every crease in Barnstable’s defensive alignment and helped their team regain the lead.
The Red Raiders made another charge, this one powered by kills from Kaylee Deluga, Carolyn Morin and Lynne Hibbard, that pulled them even at 22-all but the charge faltered and the Warriors pulled out the decision that put them one win away from a trip to the state finals.
As the third game got underway, the Red Raider team that beat New Bedford began to awaken from its slumber.
Diving gets by Kayla Crook and Devon Bentivegna resulted in kills by Deluga and Regan Bristol that opened up a 4-1 Barnstable lead.
The Warriors countered with a 5-2 run that evened the score at 6 apiece only to have the Red Raiders get more production out of their front line as Aine Cole, Bristol, Deluga, Morin and Sarah Colby all scored to help boost the Barnstable lead to 19-13.
Back came the Warriors as the North champs used a four-point run to trim the BHS lead to 21-19 but they got no closer as two more kills by Deluga helped the Red Raiders put this one in the win column.
The momentum was still wearing a Barnstable uniform as the fourth game got underway as the Red Raiders ran out to a 10-2 lead with Deluga providing most of the firepower by banging down four kills.
Back-to-back kills by Hibbard and Morin and a tip-in by Crook seemed to have put the Red Raiders on a direct path to the win as the lead went to 15-8 but suddenly, the Red Raiders had no answers for the Warriors, who got kills from Bakhtyari, Elise Brogan and Arvidson en route to an 10-3 scoring blitz that tied the game at 18-18.
Barnstable kills by Colby and Cole were matched by scores by Bakhtyari and Cronin as the teams traded points until a pair of kills by Cronin gave the Warriors leads of 24-23 and 25-24.
But on neither occasion could Andover put the hammer down as the Red Raiders put together a closing rush, keyed by a tip-in by Deluga and a kill by Morin, that gave them the win and forced a fifth-and-deciding game.
The Warriors were quicker out of the gate (3-1) but the Red Raiders now firing on all cylinders as their defense was once again of championship caliber and their unwillingness to be outworked proved to be an offensive catalyst.
After a kill by Arvidson pulled Andover even at 6-6, Crook put in her two cents worth, making a great diving get to save one point before catching the Warriors flat-footed with a well-placed toss that gave the Red Raiders an 8-6 lead.
The teams traded sides of the net but the momentum stayed with the Red Raiders as they hit the Warriors with more of the same, only from the opposite direction.
After being so close to knocking off their playoff nemesis, the Warriors were now helpless to keep it all from slipping away. Two tip-ins by Cole and a kill and a block by Deluga put the Red Raiders one point away from advancing to their seventh state championship match in the last eight years and Morin finished off Andover, whacking down the match-clinching kill.
“Sometimes, they play better when I leave them alone,’ said BHS coach Tom Turco. “ I had said it all and I stepped back and let them play. They knew what they had to do and they went out and got it done.”
Kaylee Deluga was the Red Raiders’ power player as she connected for 21 kills with her strong outing at the net nicely complemented by the contributions of Cole, 11 kills; Bristol, eight kills; Morin, five kills; Crook, four kills, two aces; Colby, three kills, five aces; and Hibbard, three kills.
In addition to the stellar defensive play of senior co-captains Sarah Colby and Devon Bentivegna, the Red Raiders also got excellent backline performances from Nikki Deluga and Stephanie Martin.
And last but not least, on a night when the Red Raiders struggled at the service line, a tip of the hat to freshman Holly Wilson, who went to the line in the fifth game and came through with three very big points that helped put the game out of the Warriors’ reach.
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