Sports editor emeritus
PROVIDENCE – Unbeaten Tolman High, which has won two of the last three Division II state volleyball championships, found itself in a heap of trouble on Sunday night in the 2014 tourney semifinals against West Warwick.
The Tigers were tied 2-2 after four games had been completed at the Providence Career and Technical Academy’s sports facility off Westminster Street, right next to Central High’s campus.
“We needed to win,” Tolman’s Eric Silveira admitted after the Tigers pulled out a 15-9 victory in the decisive fifth game. “There was a lot of pressure on us.”
Tolman, 18-0 during the regular season, lost the first game 25-23. Head coach Neil Nachbar held two of his best players – Silveira and Kelvin Reyes – out of the opener for disciplinary reasons. When the two seniors returned to the lineup, Tolman regained the upper hand, winning two straight games by scores of 25-23 and 25-22.
It looked like Tolman would win this match in four games but West Warwick, 13-5 during the regular season and a 3-0 loser to Tolman In their lone meeting, had other ideas. The Wizards, led by a power-hitting front line, went on an 11-3 run midway through the fourth game to take a 21-12 lead.
Tolman rallied to 23-17 with a mild flurry before West Warwick closed out the set, 25-19.
“This was the first time all season we had to play five games,” said Silveira, who came up big in the fifth game with three kills. Silveira finished with a team-high 11 kills on the night, despite sitting out the first game.
The two teams were tied at 8-8 in the final game before Tolman went on a decisive surge. Silveira delivered a cross-court kill for a 9-8 lead. Fellow front-liner Denzel DePina followed with a kill at the net. DePina and senior Tyler Harry then teamed up to block a West Warwick spike at the net, giving Tolman an 11-8 lead and the momentum it would need to finish off the match.
Silveira, rising to the occasion, hit a big spike that bounced off a Wizards defender and out of bounds for a 12-8 advantage. West Warwick broke the 4-0 run with a spike of its own before serving into the net, a killing blow that gave Tolman a 13-9 lead.
Harry, a left-handed hitter, hit a winner for a 14-9 lead, setting the stage for Silveira, who went to the serving line, spun the ball back and forth in his hands, and delivered an ace to close out the match.
The Tigers went through the handshake line and then solemnly listened to their coaching staff tell them they would need to step up their game in the state finals if they hope to bring home a third title in four seasons.
“We played almost error-free in the fifth game,” Nachbar said, looking on the bright side. “When you have your back against the wall like that, you want to play your best, and we did. We knew that whoever we played in the semifinals, it was going to be a tough match. West Warwick made a couple of unforced errors that helped us in the fifth game but we made some good plays, too.
“This season, (front-court) hitting has been our strong suit,” the coach continued. “We set a school record for percentage of kills. Tonight, West Warwick played good defense against us. And we had trouble getting stops with our defense. We miscommunicated a few times in the backcourt. Our blocking at the net was inconsistent.”
DePina finished with eight kills and Keanu Perry added seven for the Tigers. Setter Kelvin Reyes made several smart plays around the net, fooling the Wizards with his sense of awareness on the court.
The Tigers will face the winner of last night’s semifinal between East Greenwich and Cranston West on Wednesday night for the D-II state title. EG and CW tied for first place in the South with 16-2 records. Tolman beat both teams by a 3-1 margin during the regular season.
“These were the four teams that the coaches expected to see in the Final Four,” Nachbar said. “There are no easy matches left.”