EAST PROVIDENCE – North Kingstown outside hitter Annie Ragan was prepared for a long night against the East Providence girls volleyball team in Thursday night’s Division I quarterfinals.
Instead, it turned out to be the shortest postseason appearance the Townies have had in over 20 years.
Plagued by a slew of errors all over the court, East Providence struggled to find a way to win key points, and North, on the back of their all-state outside hitter, gladly took advantage, beating the Townies 25-23, 27-25, 25-20, a surprising end to the season for EP.
“I’m not going to say shocked because there’s a reason way you play these games,” EP coach Alex Butler said. “Disappointed? Yeah, because I don’t think we played nearly to our capability. I thought we left a lot of points out there on the floor and to North’s credit – and you have to give them credit – they got the key points when they needed them the most.”
“I thought it was going to be like 15-13 in the fifth game,” said Ragan, who finished with 14 kills and had a brilliant short serve that set up a kill by NK’s Amelia Weitman. “I thought we were going to go five and it was going to be intense with the scores going back and forth. I’m amazed right now that we won in three.”
It is the first time the Townies have missed the semifinals in a while. When asked, former EP coach Luis Carvalho – who now coaches at Rhode Island College and was in attendance supporting the Townies and doing some scouting – said the last team he remembered not making the semifinals came in the mid- to late-1980s.
North, fresh off Wednesday night’s five-game, preliminary round win over Classical, played well, but East Providence didn’t do itself a lot of favors.
All told, the Townies committed 52 unforced errors, most of them on their serve receive and free-ball passing. The poor passes led to free balls for North Kingstown, which did the most with their opportunities.
“Our serve-receive was horrible. … I served to them the last three or four days at practice and I explained the importance of ball control,” said Butler, who served to his team at practice this week in hopes of alleviating the problem. “We don’t have an explosive offense to begin with so when you’re running your offense from the 10-foot line, it becomes that much harder to attack and score.”
After committing 15 unforced errors in Game 1’s 25-23 loss, East Providence turned it around in Game 2 when Ragan made perhaps her biggest play of the game.
NK’s Joanna Chatham committed a service error and coach Vicki Tefft called a timeout with North down 22-20. Right after the timeout, Ragan informed the head official that the East Providence fans were counting – one, two, three, four, five – and asked to have it stopped.
According to RIIL rules, fans cannot refer to opposing players’ names or numbers and the head official David Nickerson heard Ragan’s complain, called over EP athletic director and after a lengthy discussion, asked him to inform the fans they could not do that.
The extra time allowed North to settle down. East Providence won the next point, but NK took the next three and led 24-23. EP followed with two big points, but a hitting error by Victoria Blaydes tied it at 25 and NK won the last two points on two unforced Townie errors.
“It’s to mess up our serves and it obviously did because JoJo missed that serve,” Ragan said of the crowd’s chants. “They’re just really good fans and I applaud them to do it, but it was just to quiet them. It tenses us up and gives us butterflies, so I was trying to calm us down and get them quiet.”
“It was a factor, but I would never use it as a reason why. When you’re up 23-20, you should win the game,” Butler said. “… Right after that we shanked to balls, hit one ball into the net and before you know it it’s 23-23. After that we had game point and we didn’t finish. All of that, that happens within the course of a match.”
Game 3 was back and forth. North started out hot, taking a 7-3 lead, but East Providence fought back and led 13-9 before the Skippers tied things up.
After trading a dozen points, North Kingstown took a 20-17 lead and never let the game get closer than two points, finishing things at 25-20.
The match was the final one for East Providence seniors Blaydes (eight kills, two blocks Thursday), Charlotte Newton, Abby Ricci, Ashley Santos and Brianna Starck (two kills).