PROVIDENCE â€” Tolman High had just earned an easier-than-expected 3-0 triumph over Central on Tuesday night, and with it virtually sealed up the second-place slot in Division II-North, but veteran head coach Neil Nachbar was hardly satisfied with his squad's overall performance.
â€śWe didn't communicate very well, and there's really no excuse for it,â€ť he stated after the Tigers improved to 12-2 in league action (14-3 overall). â€śWe just don't play with a sense of urgency at times, even when the score's tight at the end of a game. We still have those lapses where we don't do a good enough job of communicating with each other.
â€śIt should be clear who's playing each and every ball, and we had times when no one called it, or when two guys did, and that led to confusion,â€ť he added.
That being said, Nachbar admitted he felt relieved to escape the Providence Career & Technical Academy's field house with the victory, though by rather narrow margins of 25-19, 28-26 and 25-20.
â€śThis was a huge match for both of us,â€ť he noted. â€śWe were 11-2 coming into it, and Central was 9-3, just (winning) percentage points ahead of fourth-place North Smithfield (.727 to .714). After Barrington (who easily heads II-North with a perfect 12-0 mark), there are a few teams who are pretty close in the standings.
â€śWe truly knew this could've gone either way,â€ť he continued. â€śThey have two of the best players in the division with (sophomore outside hitter Jonathan) Rodriguez and (junior hitter Naroth â€śLeftyâ€ť) Chao. We knew if we weren't mindful of where they were at all times, they were more than capable of doing a lot of damage.
â€śOur game plan was to know where those two were before the ball was served, and also to try to keep it away from them. Our defense really keyed on them, then â€“ for the most part â€“ they got to where the ball was going. We were fortunate, because Rodriguez' jump serve didn't stay in as often as I know he would've liked.
â€śHe's capable of being a one-man rally creator in the blink of an eye.â€ť
For the Tigers, senior Jeff Ramos and junior Marquis Swinson tied for the team lead in kills with 15 apiece, while senior Juan Montes recorded 22 digs. Sophomore setter Kelvin Reyes mustered 33 assists and two aces, and classmate Tyler Harry two blocks.
On the other side, Chao delivered 12 kills, six digs, four assists and three blocks, while Rodriguez settled for nine kills, six blocks, four aces and three digs. Junior setter Sangress Xiong registered 20 assists in the defeat, one that dropped the Knights to 9-4 in league.
â€śJonathan struggled, I thought,â€ť claimed Central mentor Donn Chu. â€śThe sets were a little off, so his timing was off. I think he was trying to pull the ball down too much for the kill, and that he tried to force the issue. Instead of just letting the game come to him, he was forcing it.
â€śHe started off slow at first, and the energy just didn't seem to be there,â€ť he added. â€śAs a result, it affected his performance. I've seen him play better than he did.â€ť
After four lead changes and six ties in the initial game, the Tigers took the advantage back for good following a 14-14 deadlock. Swinson served up two points and Reyes another three as Tolman forged ahead, 19-15.
Not long after, a Ramos kill and a Swinson dink gave the Tigers a 23-19 lead, and a Central service error and Chao's dink attempt wide gave the visitors the win.
Game No. 2 provided outstanding drama, as the two combatants forged six lead changes and a whopping 17 ties, the last coming at 26-26 after a Knight was called for a double hit.
The Tigers mustered the point to take a one-point advantage, and â€“ on the deciding play â€“ the head official issued the Tigers the victory.
Chu attempted to explain that a Tolman hitter or blocker had touched the net on his side, and the point should be awarded to his club, but the conversation fell on deaf ears.
â€śThey had a player in the net, but no call was made,â€ť Chu insisted. â€śThat confused me, and I think it got some of my guys frustrated.â€ť
As for the finale, Central jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, but the Tigers â€“ after tying it for the third time at 6-6 â€“ took its first advantage on a Harry block. With Montes still serving. Tolman rattled off four more points, all of whom involved Swinson. He managed a spike off a block, then a kill, then a point off a dig and another kill to give his squad an 11-6 cushion.
The Tigers never lost the lead, though the Knights did close the gap to 23-20 after Rodriguez' powerhouse spike off a dig, but Harry nailed a kill and Rodriguez' spike attempt sailed long to end the match.
â€śI give them a lot of credit, their defense played very well,â€ť Chu acknowledged afterward. â€śThey were everywhere defensively, and they didn't have a lot of unforced errors. I think, mentally, it really affected our guys.â€ť