HUDSON, Mass. -- When it seemed like things were spiraling downward for her team, Lincoln-Sudbury boys' volleyball coach Bunny McClung had faith because she knew had what it takes to make a comeback.
The Warriors blew what was a five-point lead late in what should have been the deciding game of Tuesday night’s state championship game and watched Haverhill rally to grab a 27-25 win to force a fifth game.
Then, the Hillies ripped off five straight points to open the final, forcing McClung to call a timeout. In the huddle, she reminded her team of a similar comeback they had to make two years ago, erasing a seven-point deficit in the semifinals against Newton South en route to a state championship.
L-S stayed composed and gradually worked its way back into the match behind senior Ned Donaldson, who had four of his team best 12 kills, and the Warriors ultimately prevailed to defeat Haverhill, 3-2, and capture their second state title in the last three years. The Warriors won 25-20, 18-25, 25-16, 25-27, 17-15.
Senior captain Thomas Houpt added 11 kills and an impressive 20 digs for L-S, while 7-footer John Swords had nine kills and four blocks. Haverhill senior captain Brett Pettis also had 12 kills, sophomore Tommy Oliveira had 10 kills and 10 blocks, and senior captain Drew Caruso contributed nine kills for the Hillies.
“It was really a strange thing to see the lead go away in the fourth game, and then in the fifth game, it was coming back from a deficit like that,” McClung admitted. “Fifteen points is a really short match. A lot of times when you get down its really hard to recover.”
“We had to do this a couple years ago with Newton S in our semifinal match. We were down 12-5 and came back to win 18-16. so we’ve done it before. A lot of my players were there so I think that experience helped them a lot. They know they could do it and they did it.”
After splitting the first two games, L-S (21-1) dominated the third and built a seemingly insurmountable 18-13 lead in the fourth. Haverhill (21-2) got back into the game thanks to a combination of stellar play from Oliveira and a series of unforced errors by the Warriors. The Hillies grabbed their first lead of the game on a Zach Sindoni kill that made it 25-24, then finished comeback with a spectacular block by Oliveira three points later.
“This team had heart all year long. We’ve been down before and we’ve come back. There’s no quit in these guys, praised Hillies coach Bill Kaste. “They forced Lincoln-Sudbury into a few errors which I believe helped us out. We led to that by hitting the ball a little bit better at them. Tommy Oliveira did a great job at the block and we kept serving the ball in at them and making them side us out. That made it difficult for them.”
A pair of L-S mistakes, two aces by James Murray and another Oliveira block helped the Hillies build a 5-0 lead in the fifth and final game, a huge margin when you’re only playing to 15 points, before McClung took a timeout.
“After game four, I thought we would all be disappointed but we came together as a team and supported one another,” described Houpt. “To tell you the truth, I really thought we weren’t going to win that last game when we were down 5-0 in the beginning.”
L-S chipped away gradually, and took its first lead at 16-15 after a block and a kill by Houpt, and the match ended when a booming slam by Pettis landed wide of the line.