The Toll Gate volleyball team picked up its first two wins in a seven-day span earlier this season. After that, the Titans hit the toughest portion of their schedule and dropped five straight matches to teams that were ahead of them in the standings.
On Tuesday, with a good chance to get back into the win column, the Titans lost the first game of their match against Westerly.
And then they finally got back on track.
After losing a late lead and falling 25-23 in that first game, the Titans won each of the next three games by 25-19 scores on their way to a 3-1 victory over the Bulldogs.
In retrospect, the game-one loss seemed to be a wake-up call – and a reminder that the Titans didn’t want to let a good chance slip away.
“When a team wants something bad enough, they realize they have to go forward by playing their game,” said Toll Gate head coach Claire Baggesen. “In this game, it’s pass-set-hit, it’s communication, it’s teamwork, and it’s just that blend. It was going head-to-head there for a while, and then all of a sudden we just took off.”
The Titans and Bulldogs came in with matching 2-10 records, but the Bulldogs had beaten the Titans 3-0 in April. That was before the Titans had their full lineup, though, so they were confident they could right the ship in the rematch.
In the early going, it looked like they would. A kill by Nick Carr and a block by Wellington Araujo sparked a run of six straight points that gave Toll Gate a 10-5 lead in game one. Westerly answered by winning six of seven, and it was nip-and-tuck for the next few points. Toll Gate still managed to stay in control and led 20-17.
That’s when things unraveled. Westerly won five straight points, with kills by Oscar Lin, Larry Liang and Leon Wu powering the burst. Trailing 22-20, Toll Gate took a timeout but never really recovered. The Bulldogs got a kill from Cory Alicchio to go up 24-22 then won the game on a Toll Gate service error.
In the huddle between games, the Titans knew what they had to do.
“It’s finding momentum on our side and having control of the ball when it is on our side of the court,” Baggesen said. “If nothing else, it’s going back to the very basics of pass-set-hit. We need to play our game and nothing else.”
The Titans jumped to a 3-0 lead in game two thanks to a block and a kill by Carr. After Westerly made it 3-2, the Titans won six of the next seven points to go up 9-3.
Much like game one, Westerly made a run, but this time, the Titans kept them at an arm’s length and never lost the lead. After Westerly made it 10-9, George Greenhalgh had a tip to make it 11-9 and Wellington Araujo landed an ace for the 12-9 lead.
The Bulldogs never again got within one, and Toll Gate pulled away late. Carr had a kill and Araujo had two to make it 20-14. Later, Greenhalgh and Jackson Burgos finished out the win when they teamed up for a block.
“It’s coming together, it’s having everybody in the right positions,” Baggesen said. “It takes time to formulate a rotation. Everybody’s been developing, and we have such a young team mixed with some veteran players. Once we found each person’s strength, the rest has come very easy.”
With newfound momentum, the Titans raced to a 6-0 lead in game three. Burgos had an ace, and Carr had a block and a kill to power the run. After an Alicchio kill made it 6-1, Carr landed his most emphatic kill of the night for the 7-1 lead.
The rest of the way, the Bulldogs never got closer than three. They did make a run to get it to 23-19, but Toll Gate got a tip from Burgos and an ace from Matt Davis to seal the victory.
With a chance to clinch the match in game four, the Titans were a little slow out of the gates. But after a 10-10 tie, the Titans won nine of the next 13 points to take control. Then, after Westerly made one last push, the Titans won the match thanks to two hitting errors.
“Like I’ve said for many years already, on any given day it’s anybody’s game,” Baggesen said. “It’s just about who shows up, and we were here tonight.”
The win improved the Titans to 3-10, and with three matches left, they’re still in the playoff hunt. Toll Gate is currently tied with East Greenwich for the sixth and final playoff spot from D-II-South.
The Titans will visit Warwick Vets tonight at 6 p.m. before closing out the season next week against Pilgrim and East Greenwich.
“We’re looking for the same kind of intensity,” Baggesen said. “Taking one point at a time, each game at a time. Hopefully, we’ll come out victorious.”