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PROVIDENCE â€“ And just like that, there will be a new champion in Division II this year.
Tolman Highâ€™s run at the top came to a sudden and abrupt end Monday night, the semifinal loss sustained against an undefeated Pilgrim High outfit that pulled away in the third and final game en route to posting a sweep at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house.
With the triumph by scores of 25-21, 25-21, 25-14, Pilgrim advances to the championship round, set for Thursday night against the survivor of Mondayâ€™s second semifinal match pitting Cranston West and Barrington. The No. 1 seed from the South region, the Patriots will look to cap off a season that would see them win 21 games in as many opportunities.
The loss closes the book on what was a 17-4 campaign for Tolman, a club that all season long has had to contend with a pretty big bullâ€™s-eye on its back, the kind typically reserved for teams that captured the title the previous season.
Still, the fact that this Tigers outfit, the second seed from the North tier, was able to advance all the way to the next-to-last match of the season with virtually an entirely new nucleus of players speaks volumes about the job head coach Neil Nachbar did this season.
â€śWe played a lot of sophomores and only two seniors,â€ť Nachbar noted. â€śThereâ€™s a lot of growing they had to do, and for us to get back to the semifinals, our two outside hitters, Jeff Ramos and Marquis Swinson, would have to carry the load. Both of those guys had to make a huge leap from where they were a season ago.
â€śTo their credit, both of them came through,â€ť Nachbar continued.
Ramos finished with nine kills with his tag team partner (Swinson) adding 10 kills. Juan Montes came up with 34 digs while Kelvin Reyes passed for 14 assists. Swinson and Reyes represent two building blocks on which Nachbar will lay his foundation for the 2013 season.
As for Monday night, it simply boiled down to the Tigers hanging tough with the Patriots through the first two games, but with nothing to show for their efforts. By the time the third game hit the midway point, Pilgrim was on such a roll that there was very little Tolman could do in hopes of prolonging the match. The Patriots, who fell to the Tigers in the quarterfinals a season ago, ripped off a 9-1 surge that all but broke their opponentâ€™s spirit.
â€śWe worked so hard in the first two games that unfortunately we wore down by the third game,â€ť said Nachbar. â€śThey started serving more aggressively because they could afford to let it rip. The tougher they served, the worse we passed and it just snowballed from there.â€ť
Remarked Pilgrim head coach Michael McGiveron, â€śWe have the best serving game in the state and thereâ€™s no doubt about that in my mind.â€ť
One key moment occurred in the first game with the Tigers protecting a 16-14 advantage. Play was halted for about 10 minutes as the four-person officiating crew huddled up to discuss Tolmanâ€™s substitution pattern relating to the libero position.
As Nachbar explained, he wasnâ€™t so much upset about the free point Pilgrim received, which according to the coach was the correct call.
â€śAll season long weâ€™ve been using three players for one position, and itâ€™s never been called,â€ť Nachbar said. â€śThe way they did it was by the book, but my issue is that it hasnâ€™t been called like that all season. All of a sudden itâ€™s called and we lose the point and the momentum.â€ť
Stated McGiveron, â€śA lull in the game can go either way. Just because we got a point â€¦ I mean youâ€™re standing there and wondering whatâ€™s going on.â€ť