Last season, South Kingstown upset Bishop Hendricken in the Division I boys’ volleyball championship.
On Thursday, the Hawks nearly returned the favor.
Third-seeded Hendricken pushed the second-seeded Rebels to the brink in their quarterfinal match-up. After dropping two straight games, though, the Rebels buckled down for a 15-12 victory in the fifth game to clinch the 3-2 win.
It’s the earliest playoff exit for the Hawks since 2008, when they also lost in the quarterfinals, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Hawks gave their grittiest effort of the season, with key players battling through injuries and others stepping up with their best performances of the year.
“I was hoping for a good competitive match,” said Hendricken head coach Mike Harrington. “I got 100 times more than that.”
And that happened on a day when the Hawks didn’t know what to expect.
The Rebels went 13-3 and swept the Hawks in their only regular season meeting. This time, the Rebels would be short-handed, with starting setter Michael Gross out with a broken arm, but the Hawks had issues of their own. Star hitter Jahari Ford missed the last two matches of the season with an injury and would only play in the front row on Thursday. Setter Matt Medeiros was battling a bad back that flared up during the match and left him unable to stand when it was over.
Through all that, the Hawks almost pulled the upset.
“If we win, I feel the same, maybe a little better,” Harrington said. “I still feel like it was just such a spectacular effort, regardless of the outcome.”
The Rebels won the first two games 25-18 and 25-22, but the Hawks didn’t go quietly. Trailing 21-17 in game three, they won six of the next eight points to tie the score at 23-23.
A service error turned the tide and gave the Rebels match point. On that point, Hendricken’s Donny Baker slammed down a kill but there was a question as to whether he made contact with the net. Officials originally didn’t call anything, but then conferenced and decided to replay the point.
This time, Hendricken won the point when the Rebels couldn’t return a big hit by Baker. After Ryan Casci put the Rebels back in front 25-24, the Hawks got a point on a service error, another on a net violation and the clinching point when South was whistled for a carry on a tough serve by Medeiros. That gave the Hawks a 27-25 victory.
And they seized the momentum. Two runs of six straight points early in game four gave the Hawks a 15-7 lead, and South never got closer than six points as the Hawks won 25-18. Trent Medeiros had two kills in the game, while Mario McClain had three. Baker finished it with an emphatic kill.
“The third game should have been ours,” said South Kingstown coach Jackie Fagan. “Sometimes that throws the kids, and they played really crappy in the fourth game.”
In the fifth game, the Rebels regained control, jumping to a 4-1 lead and pushing it to 10-4 on the strength of three big kills by Kevin Delaney.
“We got down 4-1 and that’s not the start you’re looking for,” Harrington said. “Maybe we were running on fumes a little bit there. We need to be almost perfect in a lot of areas to hang with a team like that. It’s just sort of the way that goes. In a 15-point game, when you get down early, it’s really tough.”
But even with momentum on the side of the Rebels – and Medeiros biting his jersey in pain – the Hawks weren’t done. Ford landed a kill to make it 10-5 and Baker put down another to get it to 12-7. The Rebels won the next two points to get to match point, but the Hawks staved it off five times. Baker had a kill to make it 14-8, back-to-back errors made it 14-9, Baker smashed another kill to make it 14-11 and a miscommunication by the Rebels made it 14-12.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, that was the end of the line. South blocked a hit by Baker on the next point. Medeiros and Derek Vadnais scrambled to keep the ball up, but Baker had to reach to bump it over, and the ball hit the net.
The Rebels survived.
“I was happy to see that,” Fagan said. “I think Ryan Casci had a lot of to do with it. Front row, back row, serving – everything he did tonight was right on. I think had it not been for him, we would have been in trouble.”
The Hawks were emotional after the loss, having lived the leave it all on the court mantra that is often more cliché than truth.
“I’ve never been part of a match that we didn’t win that felt like a win in a lot of ways,” Harrington said. “For Donny to unleash himself, Trent [Medeiros] turning it on, Jahari playing for the first time in two weeks, Matt gutting it out when he should be in a hospital bed – it was really, really special.”
Baker, a freshman, had the best match of his career, racking up 24 kills to go with six digs and two aces. Trent Medeiros stepped up with Ford limited and delivered 10 kills, seven digs and four aces. Ford had four kills and Matt Medeiros tallied 42 assists. The Hawks also got solid performances from Vadnais, McClain, Ira Lough and Jordan Sasa.
“I would have liked to play this team full-strength, because I feel like we were peaking,” Harrington said. “That’ll always be part of our season, knowing that our two key guys were not near full strength. But at the same time, there’s no reason to keep our heads down. I told these guys, ‘That’s a real special match you just witnessed.’ Hopefully they can all put this in their memory bank and be proud of what they did today.”