SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Behind Alistair Matthews’ 16 kills, Springfield defeated Hunter 3-0 in Saturday’s national semifinal. Set scores were 25-13, 26-24, 25-7. The Pride will play for a national title on Sunday.
With the win, Springfield ups its record to 32-5, and has won 30 of its last 31 matches. Hunter ends it season at 26-9. It was the second victory of the year for Springfield against Hunter. The other was also by a 3-0 score on Feb. 18, by set scores of 25-18, 25-19, 25-18.
The Pride will be one of two schools to have a chance of making history on Sunday by winning the inaugural NCAA Division III Men’s Volleyball Championship.
On Saturday, Matthews, a junior opposite from Freehold, N.J., led the Pride with those 16 kills. He had but two errors in 25 swings and had a .560 hitting percentage. The only other SC player who accumulated double digits in kills was junior outside hitter Mike Pelletier with 11. Pelletier hit .526. Sophomore middle blocker Jimmy O’Leary also had four kills in five swings and hit .800 as a result.
As a team, SC hit .478 and had 13.0 blocks. A trio led the Pride with five digs apiece. They were freshman setter Keaton Pieper, freshman outside hitter Angel Perez, and sophomore libero Nick Ferry.
For Hunter, senior outside hitter Christopher Newcomb topped his squad with 11 kills. Unfortunately, he also had 13 errors, and thus hit -0.65. Junior Eric Lodde had a match-high seven digs.
The first set started out as a back and forth battle, with Hunter grabbing an early 4-3 lead after a kill from junior middle blocker John Gemegah. From there, top-seeded Springfield went on a 7-2 run that featured two kills from Pelletier, and one from O’Leary that led to Hunter’s first timeout.
After a hitting error at 9-6, the Pride was flawless on the attack for the remainder of the set. The Hawks battled back to within two, as Newcomb’s kill made it 11-9 Pride, but that was the closest they would get. Springfield ended game one on a 14-4 spurt to close out the set, 25-13. Pieper kept feeding Matthews to the tune of eight kills and a .538 hitting percentage, while Hunter hit -.133 as a team. The Hawks were plagued by eight attack errors in the game.
Springfield started the second set right where it left off the first, jumping out to a 6-2 advantage behind two aces and two Matthews’ kills. Hunter called time to talk things over and promptly got back into the game. Three consecutive Newcomb kills brought the Hawks within one at 12-11 and forced the Pride to call for time. The teams traded the next few points, leading to a Jerin Kallickal kill to knot the score at 16. From there, Hunter seemed to gain control of the set, edging ahead 19-18 after a Greg Falcone attack error, and extending the lead to 23-20 after another Pride miscue. With the set slipping away, Pieper went back to the hot hand, setting up Matthews for a left-handed spike to stop the Hawks’ momentum. Matthews then teamed up with O’Leary for a big block, and the score was suddenly 23-22 Hunter. Kallickal was set up for another attack, but his attempt went long and the Pride pulled even at 23-23.
After trading points, Matthews put the hosts ahead 25-24 with game two on the line. First team All-American Falcone finished off the comeback, finding the middle of the Hunter defense with his second kill of the match, to give the Pride the momentum and a 2-0 lead. It was a huge comeback for Springfield, as the Pride overcame a nine-kill set from Newcomb, who recovered nicely after a slow start to post a .727 hitting percentage in game two. As a team, Hunter hit .440 in game two, but Springfield prevailed behind 16 kills and a .500 hitting percentage of its own.
With the Championship game in its sights, the Pride continued its strong play into set three. Hunter was forced to burn two timeouts early on after five attack errors in nine swings left them down 7-0 and searching for a momentum changer. The Hawks were able to get on the board and pull within six at 8-2, but that would be the closest they could get for the third set. Consecutive kills by Pieper and Pelletier put an end to any charge Hunter could make. Up 24-7 and with the home crowd of more than 1500 on its feet, junior setter Mike Becker came into serve for Springfield. Becker smoked an ace into the middle of the Hunter side and sent the Pride onto the championship game.
Pieper contributed with 33 assists and five assisted blocks.
Sophomore setter Stanley Martinez contributed 18 assists for Hunter.