The Bishop Hendricken volleyball team was three points away from a state championship. And then, before the Hawks knew what hit them, the match was over.
And there was no championship.
Trailing 12-10 in game five of Thursday’s Division I championship, South Kingstown won the next four points and five out of six to shock the Hawks with a 15-13 title-clinching victory.
The Hawks weren’t surprised that the Rebels won – two regular-season meetings between the teams were nip-and-tuck. The shock was in how suddenly Hendricken’s chance for a title slipped away
“There are so many little variables in each rally, things that might force us to give up an easy ball and they score,” said Hendricken head coach Mike Harrington. “One team didn’t give up; one team didn’t try harder. It’s just the way the ball bounces out here. You can’t control every point. It’s just the way it goes. We go up 12-10 and you feel like you’ve got a good shot, but I also know it can turn too.”
Unfortunately for the top-seeded Hawks, that’s just what happened. No. 2 South Kingstown had taken the first game before the Hawks came back with two victories. The Rebels stayed alive, though, with a victory in game four.
That set up game five, and the Hawks seemed to be on track. They took a 4-3 lead and led for the next 11 points. Even when South Kingstown won three in a row to go up 10-9, the Hawks came back strong, winning three straight on kills by Brendan Baker, John Kane and Rilwan Ilumoka to go up 12-10.
Then it unraveled.
The Rebels won four straight points to get to match point. After Hendricken staved it off and made it 14-13, the Rebels got a kill from Ryan Casci to clinch the championship.
“Two-point game in the fifth,” Harrington said. “It’s good for high school volleyball, and I’m happy for South. They’re a good team and they improved as the season went on. I knew it would come down to this, a game that has a play or two difference. I’m not surprised it happened like this.”
South’s surge started with a kill by Casci that made it 12-11. On the next point, Kane – Hendricken’s top hitter – got three chances at a kill, but South dug the ball every time, and the Hawks eventually couldn’t get a return over.
“If the ball’s in the perfect spot, he’s going to score a high percentage of the time,” Harrington said. “Even if the ball’s not in a perfect spot, he’s still going to score a lot. South Kingstown’s defense gets a lot of credit. They kept alive a lot of balls that other teams wouldn’t. It’s just the way it goes.”
The digs provided the moment when South Kingstown coach Jackie Fagan could feel the tide turning.
“It was so big in the fifth game when we dug him three times,” Fagan said. “He’s their go-to guy so when you dig their go-to guy three times in a row, you know they’re in trouble.”
South Kingstown won the next point on another kill by Casci. Hendricken took a timeout to regroup, but the Rebels dug Kane again and then won the point when Hendricken couldn’t return the ball after a big hit.
The Hawks momentarily stemmed the tide when the Rebels put a return into the net after a big hit by Kane, making it 14-13. But on the next point, the Rebels set up Casci and the junior outside hitter delivered a kill in the middle of the court for the match-clinching point.
“I knew it was going to be a battle,” Fagan said. “I just worried about our guys not believing because they’re young. We talked a lot about that on the bus, about doubt and all that. That’s what I said to them going into the fifth game, and they didn’t seem like they were doubting themselves tonight.”
As the Rebels went wild, the shell-shocked Hawks were left thinking about what might have been.
From that perspective, game four stuck out.
The Hawks had dropped game one 25-21 but they came back strong to win game two 27-25 and game three 25-22. In game four, though, the momentum faded. With the score tied 7-7, South Kingstown won five straight points to go up 12-7. To that point, that was the biggest lead of the night for either team.
The Hawks got within two soon after but never closer than that in the 25-21 loss.
“I wish we didn’t give away game four,” Harrington said. “We just really lost our passing. We gave them a lead and we couldn’t come back. Game four was a chance to close them out, but we just weren’t competitive from an early point in that game.”
And the Rebels were the kind of team that could take advantage. All night, they blocked well, played great defense and consistently gave the Hawks trouble with their unorthodox attack.
“Their middle attack isn’t the traditional ‘Set me and I’m going to hit it to the corner’ kind of attack,” Harrington said. “They sort of try to push it around the block. It’s not the way you see it run very often, but it’s effective for them because it puts the pressure on you to make digs in areas you’re not used to having to defend.”
Casci delivered 30 kills to pace the Rebels. Hendricken was led by Baker, who had 29 kills and 10 digs. Kane added 13 kills and seven digs, Matt Medeiros had 57 assists, Ilumoka tallied four blocks and Jahari Ford had eight kills.
While the season ended in disappointment for the Hawks, the campaign was a successful one, especially considering that Baker and Kane were the only players with significant experience. The team will bid farewell to seniors Baker, Kane, Ilumoka and Nick Moreau.
“It was really a fantastic year,” Harrington said. “We saw guys like John and Brendan really develop their games. And we started at a really low level compared to what I expected. This has been a fun, fun year for me to be a part of because of how far we came. It would have been nice to win this one of course, but we competed so hard, and we had a great year. I’m proud of them.”