After five straight losses to open the season, the Toll Gate volleyball team is starting to hit its stride right in time for the second half of the year.
The Titans defeated East Greenwich 3-1 (25-18, 25-21, 22-25, 25-10) on Tuesday night, giving them two wins in their last three matches.
Toll Gate beat winless Warwick Vets last Tuesday before losing to undefeated Pilgrim on Thursday. Against East Greenwich, however, the Titans seemed to put it all together.
They got all-around performances from a number of players. Nick Carr led the way with eight aces, 12 kills and six blocks, but he was far from the only one with strong stats. Wellington Araujo had six aces, 10 kills and two blocks, Jackson Burgos had six aces, seven kills and five blocks and George Greenhalgh added 12 aces.
“It’s not one guy,” Toll Gate head coach Claire Baggessen said. “That’s the great thing about this team. It’s not just one guy. It’s all 10 guys, who are going to make this possible.”
Toll Gate is now 2-6, but has eight games remaining in the regular season.
And the team is excited about all of them.
In the early season, while playing some of the top teams in the league, the Titans were trying to get their own team together. Players were in and out of the lineup, and it was a struggle.
Now, with players like Araujo, a middle hitter, and Greenhalgh, the team’s setter, fully in the fold, the hope is that the second time through the schedule produces some different results.
“We’re getting more players,” Carr said. “We got two new players – George and Wellington – and they both bring a big portion of the game to us.”
The difference in the team was clear in Tuesday’s second game.
After the Titans took an early lead and kept East Greenwich at an arm’s length all the way through game one – winning 25-18 – the Avengers came out hot in game two and took a 9-0 lead.
But Toll Gate didn’t seem worried.
The Titans made it 9-1 when Greenhalgh pushed a ball into an open area for the team’s first point, before East Greenwich came back with two more points on back-to-back kills by Patrick Wong and Anthony Petrone, extending the lead out to 11-1.
Slowly, but surely, however, the Titans chipped away. Two EG hitting errors made it 11-3, and not long afterwards two hard serves from Greenhalgh got Toll Gate back within 12-6.
Two kills by Araujo and a service error by the Avengers helped The Titans climb within 16-10, but they still couldn’t seem to get much closer.
However, down 20-14, Carr picked up a kill. That sent Greenhalgh back to the service line, and he went to work.
The junior served nine consecutive points, picking up three aces in the process. Araujo added a big kill, and by the time Greenhalgh had lost a point, Toll Gate was out in front 23-21.
“We just told each other to calm down, relax and have fun,” Carr said. “That’s what we did, and we came back.”
East Greenwich committed a hitting error on the next point, and Araujo powered a ball into the ground to finish off the dramatic comeback.
“Any time a team can come back from having that type of point differential says a lot about them,” Baggesen said. “I always try to emphasize for them to not watch the score. Play your game. It’s like life’s lesson. Play your game, play it well, and play well as a team, and the score will always take care of itself.”
East Greenwich fought for a victory in a back-and-forth game three, holding off a late Toll Gate charge to win 25-22 and extend the match.
The Titans had the game tied as late as 21, putting them only four points away from victory. Instead, they had to play another game, and they clearly didn’t want to let the match go any further.
They jumped out to a 7-1 lead and remained in thorough control the whole way. Two aces from Matt Davis made it 10-4, an Araujo ace and two kills by Burgos made it 19-7, and an ace by Dimitri Mylers pushed the lead to 23-8. Araujo had a kill to make it 24-10, and an East Greenwich hitting error ended the game and match.
It was a statement game.
“We knew we could beat them,” Carr said. “We just got back together, came back as a team and played.”
Now the Titans will find out if they can really make some noise over the final eight games.
They play today at third-place Exeter-West Greenwich at 6 p.m. The first time the two teams met, on April 3, EWG won 3-0.
The hope is that with some newfound confidence – and a full squad – the Titans will become a second-half team.
“Now we just have to prepare,” Baggesen said. “We’re never too late in the season. We’ll just take it one game at a time.”