Springfield fends off Baruch to earn five-set win, berth in to title match
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Springfield is headed to its fourth consecutive national title match as it defeated Baruch in five sets in the national semifinals on Saturday in Kidera Gymnasium. Set scores were 25-22, 25-18, 18-25, 22-25, 15-13.
Springfield improved to 31-3 on the season and has now won 25 consecutive matches. The match marked the third consecutive season that Springfield and Baruch have squared off in the national tournament. The Pride bested the Bearcats in the 2011 national semifinal, and was victorious in three sets last year in the NCAA championship quarterfinals.
Springfield was led by first-year Luis Vega, who totaled a match-high 14 kills at a .357 clip to go along with nine digs and four aces. Greg Falcone recorded 12 kills while hitting .500 and John Coen added 12 kills of his own. Mike Pelletier finished with a double-double, producing 11 digs and 10 kills, while Nick Ferry posted a match-best 16 digs. Keaton Pieper and Mike Becker combined for 55 assists in the win. The Pride held an edge in kills (61-53), aces (11-7), assists (58-50) and digs (55-54), but hurt themselves with 21 service errors.
In the first set, the Bearcats took an early 5-3 lead after Martin Joksimovik hammered the ball out of the middle. Springfield battled back as a Coen kill, coupled with an assist by Vega evened things at six. Baruch continued to apply pressure from the service line and an ace at 11-8 forced head coach Charlie Sullivan into the first timeout of the match. Springfield fought back to tie things on a Vega ace at 11 and eventually took its first lead since the first point of the match at 14-13 on a dig by Coen in transition. The Pride’s offense built some momentum and earned a 16-14 cushion on a Vega overpass kill, forcing Baruch into a timeout.
Springfield maintained at least a one-point cushion, with a Pelletier kill at 22-20 that forced Baruch into its final timeout. Vega crushed a crosscourt kill at 23-21 as Falcone and Pieper combined for a monster block to reach set point. Vega than gave the Pride a 25-22 victory, ripping a kill off the Baruch block. The Pride out hit the Bearcats, .321 to .100 in the opening set, but was daunted by seven service errors.
After an early 0-2 hole, Springfield responded with the next four points, highlighted by Falcone ace.The teams continued to trade points in the back-and-forth affair until consecutive Baruch attack errors, thanks to a Pieper and O’Leary block, forced the Bearcats into a timeout. Coen kept the pressure on at the service line, and ripped a pair of back-row kills to give the Pride a 17-12 lead.
The Bearcats crept back to 19-16 as the Pride burned a timeout, but Vega stemmed the tide as he destroyed a kill off the block, and followed it with back-to-back aces to make it 23-17. Falcone then put his stamp on the frame, bouncing a ball out of the middle as the Pride took the second set 25-18 and finished the set with a .500 hitting percentage.
Baruch jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead, with Chris Kaimis and Steven Coniglio highlighting the early going with a double block, but Springfield responded with a 4-1 burst to even things at six following consecutive kills by Pelletier and Coen. Becker then gave Springfield an 11-9 lead after a tremendous run of serves, including a pair of aces, as Baruch called for a timeout. Nick Smith smashed an overpass kill to cap off a three-point surge for the Bearcats as they regained a one-point advantage. After a long rally that resulted in another Baruch point on a Jack McKee kill, Springfield called for a timeout of their own at 16-14.
Vega crushed a kill to bring Springfield within one at 18-17, but the Bearcats responded with five consecutive points to grab control. McKee then sealed the 25-18 set victory with a kill off the Springfield block. The Pride was limited to just a .081 hitting percentage in the set, as it totaled eight attack errors after Baruch totaled four team blocks.
Consecutive double blocks for Baruch gave them another early lead in the fourth (3-1), only to have Becker blast back-to-back aces to put Springfield back on top at 8-7. An O’Leary kill out of the middle gave Springfield a 12-11 lead, but Baruch strung together three points, capped off by an ace, as the Pride burned a timeout at 14-12. Gabe Rivera produced an ace out of the break to push the lead to three, but Falcone answered back with a kill out of the middle to even things at 17. However, Baruch gained the separation needed after pouring on a 5-0 run to earn a 22-17 lead, using two blocks in the push.
Sullivan went to his bench and Alistair Matthews responded with a pair of critical kills to force the Bearcats into a timeout at 23-21. McKee sided out for set point, but Matthews added another kill to extend the set, only to have O’Leary just miss on a overpass swing to force a fifth set.
Vega opened up the fifth set with his fourth ace of the day and Baruch launched two-straight attacks out of bounds for an early 3-0 lead for the Pride. Pelletier would later tip a ball over the block to keep Springfield up 6-3 and then delivered an ace for an 8-4 lead at the switch. Falcone posted a block at 10-7 but the Bearcats responded with a 3-1 burst, using a McKee kill to force Springfield into a timeout. The teams traded kills in the one-point affair until Pelletier crushed a cross court bid for match point. An ensuing service error prolonged the match, but O’Leary produced his eighth kill to wrap up the gritty win.