By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Eastern volleyball team was in a dogfight with Joel Barlow in a huge Class L quarterfinal showdown from the Thomas M. Monahan Gymnasium in Bristol on Saturday, Nov. 8.
The Lancers, ranked fourth in the fray, battled No. 5 Barlow into a fifth and final set with the victor advancing to the semifinal bracket and a date with top seeded Farmington.
And Eastern would not be denied as the Falcons fell behind right off the bat in the fifth game and simply never recovered.
In the end, the Lancers posted a gutsy 3-2 win over Barlow to earn a third – and final – showdown against Farmington.
Set scores were 25-22, 25-7, 22-25,17-25, and 15-7 as the Lancers make another consecutive appearance in the semifinal round.
Farmington toasted No. 8 Mercy 25-14, 25-5 and 25-13 to make it a clean sweep to advance into the semifinal round.
It was another team effort by the Lancers (20-3) to stave off a very good squad from Joel Barlow (18-3).
Megan Gettings led Eastern with 15 kills, 7 digs, 3 aces while Angela Daley added 14 kills, 19 digs and went 13-of-14 serving. Reserve Saige Ryan went 12-for-13 serving, Bailey Wyrebek collected 23 digs and was 14-for-14 serving while Shannon Michelson was solid from the back-line where she went 21-for-23 serving.
And then there was the clever Brianna Root, who tallied up an amazing 44 assists and posted a 20-for-21 serving total.
For Barlow, Lily Taeuber was18-for-18 serving, Kristen Acocella went 10-for-11 on the serving front while Maddie Asplund added a perfect 17-for-17 tally from the service line, dishing out 29 assists and posting three kills to lead an outstanding effort.
Eastern won the first two sets and led 21-19 in the third game, a mere four points away from a clean sweep.
It just didn’t happen as the battle went the distance, needing a fifth and final set.
“We should have taken the (match) in game three,” said Eastern coach Stacy Rivoira. “But we didn’t but (Eastern) fought hard and they finished strong.”
Barlow had another plan in mind and won the next two sets to tie the match up at 2-2.
That’s a credit to the visitors who were forced into starting four sophomores due to injuries as two top players were out with concussions.
“What an unbelievable tribute to them,” said Rivoira of Joel Barlow. “What composure they had, to be in that situation and do what they did. I give them a lot of credit. That’s not easy as a sophomore and they did that. They really had only one senior girl out there on the court.”
The first set was a back-and-forth affair early but Eastern went up 11-9 midway through the fray.
However, Eastern stretched out their lead as a 5-0 push – highlighted by two kills by Gettings – and Eastern led 16-9.
That lead stayed at seven, 22-15, off a kill by Brianna Wilson but the Falcons made a mad dash to end the tilt.
Barlow went on a 7-2 push but when Daley slammed a ball down on the opposite side of the court, it was the final point needed for the home squad as Eastern won the set by a 25-22 final.
And in set two, it was all Bristol Eastern.
Marino had an early kill to give the visitors an edge that would not last long.
And even as Barlow zipped up a 4-2 lead, the bottom fell out quickly.
The Lancers scooted out a 23-3 run to take the set and put a stranglehold on the match.
Ryan started it with three serves that could not be returned and off that hot play, Eastern soon led 17-5.
Barlow got as close as 21-7 but Wyrebek added an ace and the Falcons made two errors to close out the stanza, falling by a 25-7 final.
“I thought our serving was strong tonight (and) that was a big part of game one and two, especially in game two,” said Rivoira. “I thought our serving and serve receive was very effective.”
The third set was a back and forth affair as nine lead changes and 10 ties highlighted a very tight period of action.
Off a slick set-up from Root, Daley jammed home another kill down and Eastern led by a 21-19 push and was on the doorstep of advancement.
But Barlow ended the stanza with a 6-1 burst and by the completion of the tilt, the visitors nailed up a 25-22 win to cut Eastern’s match lead to 2-1.
“I think in game three, we got off to a slow start,” said Rivoira. “(Marino) got on fire. She was hitting the ball everywhere and they started to (perform) some finesse plays in the middle and really broke apart our defense. We weren’t in the right position.”
“We didn’t pick up enough balls and as we did that, (Barlow) got the momentum.”
The fourth set was a miserable mess for the home squad and off a tap-over from freshman Ava Campano, the Panthers were in front 13-4.
Eastern seemed just two or three points away from turning the tide of the set and off a kill by Cynthia Fendt, the Lancers trailed by just a 17-13 score.
However, Eastern never got any closer than five points the rest of the way as Barlow picked up a 25-17 win to tie the match up at 2-2.
“In the end, they’re giving everything they have,” said Rivoira of Eastern. “It’s just that we give them too many points at a time. We let them run off points so they have a lead, we come back. They have a lead, we come back because we make too many errors on our side. We need to be forcing them to make more errors and when we lose games, I don’t think we do that effectively.”
Would Barlow make a complete comeback and send Eastern’s season into oblivion?
Not a chance as Wilson and Root helped to put the Lancers up quickly and at 2-0, the Falcons were never able to grab any type of lead in the fifth set.
Eventually, that two point lead was expanded to seven as Gettings zipped up multiple kills and quickly, it was a 12-5 game.
To end the set, Wilson tipped over a shot and Daley zipped down a game-ending slam as Eastern won the match with a 15-7 fifth game win to advance to the semifinals to take on Farmington in what should be an epic battle.
“Anything goes,” said Rivoira of battles against Farmington. “They bring out the best in us, we bring out the best in them and it’s always a battle. And, you know what, maybe these tests will help us in that type of situation and they can find something from these last two games (against Barlow).”
By MICHAEL LETENDRE