SOUTH KINGSTOWN – You know that Mount St. Charles-Coventry final that would have been billed as a matchup pitting one unbeaten squad versus another? Apparently Ponaganset didn’t get the memo.
The Chieftains, perhaps the only team to test the Mounties during the regular season, staged a shocking 3-1 upset in the Division I semifinals Tuesday night at URI’s Keaney Gymnasium. Just like that, Ponaganset, which downed MSC by scores of 25-22, 25-20, 18-25, 25-20, is the team that’s moving on to Saturday’s championship match. Coventry secured the other bid with a three games to one victory at East Providence’s expense.
To many onlookers, what the Chieftains accomplished in the program’s first-ever quarterfinal-round appearance was greeted with plenty of surprise. After all, the Mounties were the squad that barely broke a sweat during the regular season on their way to posting a 14-0 record.
Yet to help explain what transpired Tuesday, let’s examine the events of Oct. 20. That particular day saw the Chieftains push the Mounties to a rare and deciding fifth game by the Chieftains. Yes, MSC was able to prevail and to keep its perfect season intact. Ponaganset, however, was able to gain something far greater — the confidence in knowing that if these division foes crossed paths a third time, the script had a definite shot of being flipped in the Chieftains’ favor.
“I knew we had the ability to play great,” said a clearly excited Sue Stevens, Ponaganset’s head coach. “We just had to play well.”
Truer words were never spoken. In a match that saw the Chieftains knock the Mounties for a loop offensively, keep numerous balls alive that resulted in points for Ponaganset, it was the play of junior setter Taylor Stevens that helped carry the day. Stevens, who missed the first regular-season meeting with the Mounties with a neck injury, finished with seven aces, 17 digs and 21 assists.
Stevens’ ability to put her teammates in a favorable position to strike was another reason why the Chieftains took down the Mounties. Among the recipients were senior Sarah Gates (12 blocks, eight kills, two aces), Miranda Rayner (11 digs, seven kills, three aces) and Noelle Mioza (23 digs, two aces).
“Sarah (Gates) did a great job at the net and she did a great job hitting,” praised Stevens. “The combination of her and our setter (Stevens), they moved the ball around and hit from a lot of different spots on the net.”
For the Mounties, who saw their season end with a semifinal loss for the third time in four seasons, junior Carissa Gould handed out 35 assists while senior Kelsey Lace had 19 kills and eight aces. Junior Meaghan Walsh added 13 kills and nine digs.
“We just didn’t do anything well enough to win tonight. We didn’t serve well and we didn’t pass particularly well” was the assessment offered by MSC head coach Josh D’Abate. “Sometimes you have a bad night and it’s tough when it comes in this situation. There’s no chance to for redemption.
“In my mind we’re still the best team in the state, but the better team (meaning Ponaganset) won tonight,” D’Abate added.
The Chieftains, who finished third in the ultra-competitive Division I-North circuit with a 10-4 mark, stormed out to a two-games-to-none lead before slipping in the third game. Drawing on past experience, Stevens stressed the importance of regrouping in the fourth game if for the only reason to avoid the match dragging on any longer.
Needing to win, Mount lead 15-14 before Ponaganset seized control for good. An ace by Stevens put the Chieftains up 20-15 before the Mounties rallied to close to within 24-21. The clinching point came on a MSC service error, which prompted the Ponaganset players to rush the floor in celebration.
The second quarterfinal match of the evening went to form with the Oakers, champions of I-North, shutting down the Townies by scores of 25-17, 22-25, 25-21, 25-18. East Providence, which last captured the state title in 2005, was plagued by first-ball errors – the Townies finished with 12 service errors and 12 service-receive errors – and an offense that had trouble finding any sort of rhythm due to always playing from behind.
“We didn’t play well enough to win. Give Coventry credit, they capitalized on our mistakes,” said E.P. head coach Alex Butler. “When you play from ahead, it makes the game a lot easier for you.”
The Townies were guilty of six service errors on their way to dropping the first game before rallying to take the second game after trailing the Oakers 22-21. More problems with serving resulted in a Game 3 loss for E.P. with Coventry once again owning the upper hand in the fourth and final game.
For East Providence, Kim Thomas had nine kills while Hannah Drolet, who played despite a sprained ankle, added five kills and three blocks.