Hendricken volleyball coach Mike Harrington often turns the scoreboard on during practices, clicks the numbers into the 20’s and challenges his team to make plays. He doesn’t know how much of a difference it makes.
If his team’s performance in Tuesday’s Division I semifinal is any indication, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
The top-seeded Hawks matched up with No. 4 North Kingstown and found themselves in a battle every step of the way. But in tense late-game situations, the Hawks shined, winning three out of four games with strong finishes to beat the Skippers 3-1 and clinch a spot in the Division I championship.
“It’s something we talk about and we do a lot of drills on,” Harrington said. “We set the scoreboard for late in a game, and I expect them to make serves and make plays. Hopefully that makes it a little more familiar.”
Thanks to their execution in the tough spots on Tuesday, the Hawks put themselves one win away from their third consecutive state championship. They’ll take on No. 2 South Kingstown for the title on Thursday at 4 p.m. at the Providence Career & Technical Academy. The Rebels beat No. 3 Coventry in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
Hendricken, which went 15-1 in the regular season, will head in as the favorite but won’t take anything for granted. All season, not much separated the top group of teams.
“There will be no 3-0 sweep in the finals,” Harrington said. “We’re going to have to earn it.”
Heading into the semifinals, the Hawks felt the same way, knowing that the Skippers were one of the teams in the mix for the title.
And North Kingstown started its upset bid exactly as planned, jumping out to a 9-4 lead in game one. Hendricken came back to take a 13-12 lead, but the Skippers responded and won seven of the next eight points to take a 19-14 lead.
The Hawks knew what to do, even if it wasn’t going to result in a win.
“At that point, I know we’re not out of it because we’re capable of going on runs,” Harrington said. “You’re just really trying to grind it and not show signs of surrender there. Even if we don’t win the game, we need to push hard to whatever that finish line is.”
The Hawks got a kill from John Kane to make it 19-15 before three straight North hitting errors and a back row hitting violation tied the match at 19-19. From there, the Hawks came up big, even as North tried to pull away. Brendan Baker and Kane had kills to tie the score at 21-21. After North went up 23-21, Hendricken picked up a point on a service error and got a kill from Kane to tie the game. North’s Mike Scott slammed down a kill to give the Skippers game point, but Hendricken surged after that. Kane landed a kill to tie the game, Baker sliced a kill just inside the line to make it 25-24 and Jahari Ford pushed a kill to an open spot to clinch the 26-24 victory for the Hawks.
“If we go down there, the little bit of pressure we probably already feel compounds on us,” Harrington said. “That was huge. We weren’t supposed to win that game the way we were playing and the late lead they had. We stole that one and that really helped us win tonight.”
The Hawks couldn’t keep their momentum in game two. North took a lead at 12-11 and never trailed the rest of the way, holding off a charge from the Hawks for a 25-21 win.
But Hendricken got back into a groove for game three. Kane started a run of four straight with a kill, before Baker put down a kill and Ford came up with a block to put the Hawks ahead 7-4. Just as North had done in game two, the Hawks never trailed the rest of the way, even when things got tough late in the game.
After a Scott kill brought the Skippers within one at 19-18, the Hawks got a point on a service error and a kill from Kane to go up 21-18. Scott made it 21-19 with another kill, before Kane landed a kill and sparked a run of three straight. North won the next two points before Kane finished off the 25-21 win with a kill.
“We just had to play like we normally do,” said Hendricken setter Matt Medeiros. “NK is a great team, and we just had to fight back. I think we executed great in the third game to give us the 2-1 lead.”
Game four followed a similar script until the Hawks delivered perhaps their best stretch of the night midway through. They won eight of 11 points and got all of them without a single North error. Kane had three kills, Ford had two and Baker had one. Kane capped the burst with two aces.
North made a push after that and got within one at 21-20, but again, the Hawks found a way in the late going. A service error put the Hawks up 22-20 before North was whistled for a net violation when both teams went after a ball above the net. Derek Vadnais delivered two huge digs for the Hawks on the next point, and Rilwan Ilumoka had another before North committed a hitting error to give Hendricken match point at 24-20. North staved it off momentarily with a kill from Scott, but a high tip by Kane on the next point dropped in and gave Hendricken the 25-21 victory.
Kane led the Hawks with 25 kills and 10 digs, while Baker added 19 kills and 11 digs. Ford had nine kills, Vadnais came up with nine digs and Medeiros finished with 52 assists.
The Hawks will now try to bring home another title. It would be the ninth in program history, but like many that came before, it won’t be easy to get. South Kingstown went 13-3 in the regular season and pushed the Hawks to four games and five games in their two meetings.
“Five games comes down to a play or two,” Harrington said. “I saw South play at North after we had beaten them in five and they looked out-of-this-world good. They’re a real high-level team. It’s going to be a battle.”