HOBOKEN, N.J. -- Led by a career performance from Greg Woods, Springfield advanced to the NCAA Division III Championship after a four-set victory against Nazareth on Saturday evening. The Pride won by set scores of 27-29, 25-21, 25-19 and 25-18.
Second-seeded Springfield owns a 25-6 record and has won its past 17 Division III matches dating back to Feb. 14. Nazareth falls to 28-7 this season and advanced to the semifinals as the No. 6 seed.
Woods put together a performance for the ages, registering a career-high 28 kills at a staggering .610 clip, while Ricardo Padilla Ayala totaled 16 kills, seven digs, three aces and three blocks. Keaton Pieper was masterful running the offense to a .400 team hitting percentage as he collected 50 assists and eight digs. Angel Perez chipped in 11 kills and six digs. Joseth Irizarry Feliciano racked up a match-high six blocks and Ryan Malone posted a match-best 10 digs.
After Springfield opened the match with the first two points, Nazareth responded with six unanswered points to gain an early four-point cushion following a Golden Flyer ace. Woods buried a ball in transition to even things at nine apiece, but the Golden Flyers' lead would grow to four on a five occasions, the last coming at 19-15. Tucker Evans provided a huge spark from the service line, helping lead Springfield on a 7-1 run that pushed the Pride's lead to 22-20. The Golden Flyers battled back to tie things at 23, but Springfield would gain four set points, only to have a block from Kamp and Mahan, and a Zyburt kill in transition give Nazareth a 29-27 win. Woods had six kills in the first set, while Irizarry Feliciano totaled four blocks.
The second set began as a back-and-forth affair until Padilla Ayala blasted a kill off the Nazareth block that kickstarted a Pride run that gave them an 11-6 cushion. Woods brought the crowd to its feet with a sensational swing at 14-9, and after Nazareth brought it within three on three different occasions, Woods painted the back corner with another swing in transition to make it a 22-17 contest. The Pride offense was sensational in the set, hitting .536 in the set, bolstered by nine kills from Woods, and Perez finished off a 25-21 win with a big swing in system.
Padilla Ayala cranked back-to-back aces to give Springfield a 5-2 lead to start the third and a solo stuff from Jason Mascoe forced the Golden Flyers into a timeout, trailing 12-8. Springfield didn't let up out of the timeout, pouring on six consecutive points to balloon its lead to 18-8. Nazareth began to chip back, getting with 20-16 on a Zyburt kill off the block, but Woods tipped a kill to break the Golden Flyer run. Perez cracked a cross-court kill for set point, and a Nazareth service error allowed the Pride to take a 2-1 set lead with a 25-19 victory. Padilla Ayala was tremendous in the frame, putting away four kills to go along with two aces.
In the fourth, Nazareth earned a quick 5-3 lead on a Mahan and Cord block and it carried that two-point cushion until a Pieper overpass kill knotted things at eight. Springfield would take its first lead of the set at 12-11 on a Nazareth attack error and a thunderous swing in transition from Woods made it a 18-15 contest. After a sideout kill from Nazareth made it a two-point game, Springfield closed out the match on a 7-2 run to advance to the national championship match. In fitting fashion, Woods crushed his 28th kill of the night to seal the win.