Pilgrim caught in middle of playoff problem
The Pilgrim volleyball team is probably the fifth-best volleyball team in the state.
Unless something drastic happens, the Pilgrim boys’ volleyball team will probably be spectators for the postseason.
That’s just downright unlucky.
In a Rhode Island high school sports landscape in which more teams make the playoffs than don’t, and where teams in some sports automatically qualify for the playoffs if they win 40-percent of their games, the Pats are on track to be one of the toughest playoff casualties in recent memory.
They’re damn good. They’re just victims of circumstance.
Last year, fresh off a Division II title, Pilgrim moved up to Division I, and at the same time Division I changed its format. It went from one division featuring all the teams to two subdivisions featuring six teams each.
When there was just one division, the top six teams made the playoffs, no questions asked. In the subdivision format, the top four teams from each subdivision make the playoffs,.
The new format isn’t unreasonable – 67 percent of the teams still make the playoffs. But for Pilgrim, it’s been the worst-case scenario.
The Pats are 4-5, and sit in fifth place in D-I-South. They trail 9-0 North Kingstown, 8-1 Coventry – the defending state champion – 7-2 South Kingstown – the defending state runner-up – and 6-3 Chariho. Right now, they’re the first-team out of the playoffs from I-South.
Contrast that with the other side of the bracket, D-I-North. There, Mount St. Charles leads the way at 6-3, East Providence is 5-4, Cranston East is 4-5, La Salle is 3-6, Hendricken is 1-7 and Barrington is 0-9.
Even from just the records, it’s clear that I-South is better than I-North. How much better though?
Pilgrim – which we’ve already established is the fifth-best team in I-South – beat Mount, the leader in I-North – 3-2 on Tuesday. The fifth-best team in I-South beat the best team in I-North.
And that’s been commonplace.
In crossover games, the top five teams in I-South are 19-1 this season against I-North. North Kingstown, Coventry, South Kingstown and Chariho are all 4-0, while Pilgrim is 3-1.
That’s about as telling as it gets. The only win that a I-North team has over a I-South team, excluding I-South’s 0-9 EWG, is East Providence’s 3-2 win over Pilgrim on April 17. The Pats lost 15-10 in the deciding fifth game, and if they had managed to pull it out they would have given I-South a perfect 20-0 mark up to this point against their counterparts.
Yet, four teams from I-North will likely get in the playoffs, while Pilgrim will probably be on the couch. The Pats have wins over La Salle, Cranston East and Mount, by a combined 9-3 score. Those three teams have nearly clinched playoff berths.
The Pats had their chances to be in better position, although it would have taken some spectacular performances to do it. They could have beaten East Providence in the aforementioned 3-2 loss and they nearly beat SK on April 8, losing that match 3-2, including a 15-12 loss in game 5.
The real killer, though, is a 3-0 loss to Chariho. The Chargers are the team directly above Pilgrim in the standings. Both teams would be 5-4 if the Pats had won that one.
Instead, it’s a long road back. Pilgrim isn’t out of contention yet, but the path to get into the top four is paved with trouble. The Pats should have no problem beating winless Barrington, winless EWG and one-win Hendricken, and it will likely lose to Coventry and North Kingstown. That would put Pilgrim at 7-7.
The other two games are South Kingstown and Chariho. The Rebels have basically punched their ticket to the playoffs already, but Pilgrim almost beat them earlier in the season. The rematch is basically a must-win now for the Pats.
If they capture that one, they set up a season-ending match with Chariho that could decide the final playoff spot, depending on how the Chargers do in a few of their matches that could go either way.
It’s a rough situation, one that is almost unprecedented in Rhode Island high school sports. Even if Pilgrim does make it into the top four, Chariho would have to be considered the fifth-best team in the state and still on the outside looking in.
With eight playoff teams, that’s a tough pill to swallow. Still, Pilgrim isn’t going to go down without doing it all it can to get to the postseason.
“There’s a little bit more of an imbalance this year between the subdivisions,” said Pilgrim head coach Mike McGiveron. “But it just makes you have to fight that much more to get to where you want to be.”
The Pats have only three seniors – Alec Labitt, Tyler Mantaian and Phil Nemirow – on a 21-person roster. Those three are all big contributors, but players like Blake Doelling, Caleb Fournier and Rob Quaine are only juniors, meaning that if the fifth-best team in the state misses the playoffs this year, it should still have a chance at finding its way next season.
But Pilgrim will worry about that then when the time comes. It is playing Hendricken at home today at 6:30 p.m., then is at Barrington next Wednesday. After that, the Pats should be 6-5, and every match will take on new meaning.
Pilgrim hopes it can play well enough to make another team the unfortunate victim of circumstance.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.