PAWTUCKET – Tolman High had to dig deep on Thursday night to outlast Narragansett in a preliminary round playoff matchup.
The Tigers rallied from a 2-1 deficit to edge the Mariners in five games, 3-2.
“I think the difference in the match was we’ve been tested like this all season long,” Tolman coach Roger Tow admitted after the Tigers prevailed by scores of 25-21, 23-25, 22-25, 25-20 and 15-12. “We have played so many five-game matches. When you get in a situation where the score is 23-23, you have to earn those points. And that’s what we did tonight. We played defense and forced them into mistakes.”
Narragansett coach Joni Stern-Lonczak thought Tolman’s passing game was the difference.
“We didn’t pass the ball as well as we should have,” the coach said. “And Tolman seemed to have a few more spurts than we did. It seemed like we were playing from behind in every game except the second game. I think they passed the ball better than we did.”
There wasn’t much to choose between the teams. Narragansett got great production from Hannah Maymon and Gabrielle Leclerc around the net. Tolman’s Jenn Ayala controlled play on her side of the court, dictating the tempo with her delicate touch around the net and her defensive skills when playing in the middle of the defense.
“Jenn is definitely an all-state candidate,” Tow said. “She is our leader on offense and defender and she is our emotional leader, too, picking the girls up when they need it.”
Neither team could shake the other for long in any of the five games. Tolman jumped out to an 11-4 lead in the first game before the Mariners went on a 6-0 run to pull within two points at 14-12. Maymon and Ayala matched up often at the net with the Mariners’ hitter delivering some strong shots. Ayala often responded by tipping the ball over the front line of defense and into open spots in the middle of Narragansett’s defense.
The Tigers pulled ahead at 23-16 when Ayala hit the back line with a strong shot from the middle of the court. Tolman then mis-hit several balls, letting Narragansett rally to 23-21 before Ayala found an opening to stop the comeback. She then served the winning point.
Narragansett jumped out to a 17-6 lead in the second game as Leclerc teamed up with Maymon to dominate at the net. Tolman came within three points at 22-19 before the Maymon dropped a deft tip over the net make it 23-19. Still, the Tigers closed to one at 24-23 before the Mariners came up with the winning point on a net violation by Tolman.
Game three saw Tolman go ahead 10-4 before the Mariners got going with a 6-0 run that pulled them even at 12-12. The game was tied again at 18 before Narragansett scored three straight points. Maymon won a duel at the net for the winning point and a 2-1 lead in games.
Tolman, the No. 8 seed in this tournament, needed to rally at this point. Tajah Williams got the Tigers off to a 4-0 lead with some strong serving. The Tigers led 18-12 at one point, then got within one point of victory at 24-18 before the Mariners scored two straight points. This game ended in Tolman’s favor on a bad serve by the Mariners.
With the match even at 2-2, the 15-point rule came into effect for the decisive fifth game. Tolman got the first point on a well-placed shot by Ayala that found an open spot in Narragansett’s defense. Ayala then exchanged three tips at the net before dropping in a deft shot for a 2-0 lead. But the Mariners stayed close for the next few points. Tolman held a 7-5 lead after Maymon blocked a shot at the net. The Mariners gave back the momentum with a bad serve. Tolman would pounce with a 5-0 run to lead, 12-5.
The Mariners bounced back one last time, pulling to 13-10 on a bad Tolman serve. Tolman hit long and it was 13-11. But the Mariners hit into the net to make it 14-11 and then after a strong front line effort produced a final point for the visitors, Tolman won the match on a mis-hit at the net.
“This team won three games last season,” Narragansett coach Stern-Lonczak pointed out. “We won nine games this season. The girls should be proud of themselves.”
Tolman, now 11-4 on the season, draws undefeated and top-seeded Bay View (14-0) in Monday’s 6:30 p.m. quarterfinal match at the Bengals’ home court.
“We have our hands full,” Tow said. “It’s a tough uphill battle from here. Our girls are always being tested and this will be another big test for us.”