STRATFORD — Even though the Bunnell girls volleyball team entered Wednesday’s contest with Stratford still seeking its first win of the season, Red Devils’ coach Lisa Buccieri knew better than to take the Bulldogs lightly.
That’s because Bunnell pushed Stratford to five sets in the earlier meeting between the town rivals.
While the rematch didn’t go the distance, the Red Devils trailed early in all four sets before holding off the Bulldogs, 25-21, 8-25, 25-22, 25-18, at the Needham Gym.
Sydney Ritchie recorded eight blocks, five assists and 13 kills for Stratford (8-5), which overcame a number of unforced errors to clinch a berth in the state tournament.
“It wasn’t a pretty win, especially coming off that second set,” Buccieri said. “I have no idea what happened to us butI was just glad that we overcame it and pulled together. We had a lot of problems with setting tonight. Once you start getting caught like that your setters are afraid to setthe ball. Thank God my setters finally came through. They started getting the ball to the hitters and we hit more.”
Samantha Perley was strong on defense for the Red Devils with 16 digs while adding nine kills, five assists and five points. Also solid on defense for the Red Devils were Anna Mayglothing (15 digs) and Julie Carbone (13 digs).
The Bulldogs opened leads of 6-2 and 8-5 to start the match before Stratford reeled off eight straight points to take control of the opening set at 13-8.
In the second set, however, Bunnell was in command from start to finish, surging out to an 8-0 advantage and building its lead to as much as 19-3.
With their confidence growing, the Bulldogs continued to play Stratford tough in the third set, grabbing a 13-10 leadon Mia Noisette’s kill.
“I can’t get mad at the girls,” said Bunnell coach Daniel Romaniello, whose team dropped to 0-14. “They fought until the very end. Obviously, its a rivalry that goes back for ages and they didn’t give up on me. Game two was phenomenal. I wish we could have pushed a little harder after that and carried that into game three but, unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. They gave us chances and we didn’t take advantage of them, a lot of balls into the net. Just didn’t get it done.”
The third set remained tight with four ties before Stratford broke a 17-17 deadlock with three straight points.
Bunnell got within 22-21 before Stratford scored the final three points to go up two sets to one.
Early in the match, however, Buccieri thought her team was getting outplayed.
”I knew they wanted it badly,” she said. “They were just ready to play. It seemed like they were on top and we were kind of flat and very, very slow. It got kind of scary in the beginning and I really thought that Bunnell was going to take it from us.”
Stratford extended its winning streak against Bunnell to six, sweeping the season series for the third straight year.
“Their middles were phenomenal tonight,” Buccieri added. “I saw more in their middles this game than the first time we played them and their serving was good. Thank God we stepped it up a little more and played better.”
The final set also was close before Stratford took the lead for good at 14-13. At 20-18, the Red Devils reeled off the final five points to finally put away the Bulldogs.
Perley’s kill made it 24-18.
“We didn’t really take advantage fully of the free balls,” Romaniello said. “We had to get those free balls closer to thenet so that we could more aggressive with the kills at the net. That kind of slipped away from us in game four, unfortunately. We were setting from the 13- 14-foot line rather than nice, quick two balls at the net, but they held their heads uphigh the entire game. They really did fight.”
Stratford is back in action on Thursday at Platt Tech while Bunnell visits Pomperaug on Friday in its next match.
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