SOUTHBURY >> The back of the Foran warmup jerseys display what the season has been about for the Lions. Two simple words: “Endless Pursuit.”
Their “endless pursuit” will indeed come to an end, but not without a shot at winning the Class M state championship.
The No. 6-seeded Lions used a total team effort Wednesday night to defeat No. 18 Rocky Hill 3-1 (25-14, 13-25, 25-22 and 25-22) in the state semifinals at Pomperaug.
With the victory, the Lions will return to the state title game for the first time since 2000 and will play top-seeded Woodland, a 3-1 winner over Waterford in the other semifinal, at Berlin High on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We were just focused on nothing hitting the floor on our side,” Foran libero Dani Kemp said after finishing with a team-high 21 digs. “It is an endless pursuit. We want to go all out for everything. Coach Julie (Johnson) just told us to stay calm, cool, collected and confident. That’s what we did.”
The Lions, who improved to 16-7, were well aware of the offensive problems the Terriers presented with Krista Iacobucci and Kirstyn Arcata doing the hitting. Foran responded in fine fashion, making adjustments in the final two games and stealing the momentum late in the third game.
With the game even at 18 in the third game and Rocky Hill with the serve, the Terriers did not capitalize, failing to get the point. Foran responded with a 6-0 run, behind two kills by Kaylee Ciolino, to take a 24-18 lead.
Although the Terriers cut the deficit to 24-22, Abby Amann ended the third game with a kill and Foran had regained the momentum for good.
“We had a couple of crucial errors at crucial times in the third game when it was tied at 18,” Rocky Hill coach Scott Ferguson said after his team finished the season 12-11. “We missed the serve and they went on a run. I thought we should have had that third game, but we did not seal the deal.”
Foran used that momentum in the fourth game to advance to the final. Four kills by Fallon Bevino, a kill and a block for a point by Janae Owen and another loud kill by Lucy Weissauer staked the Lions to an early 9-4 lead.
“I think our defense made it tough for them tonight,” Bevino said after finishing with 20 kills and 15 digs. “It took one or two games for our hitters to get going. We just hustled and it was an all-around team effort.
“It is amazing. It is a dream to get there. I have been in the softball finals, but it means so much to get in a volleyball championship game. We really played our hearts out.”
A kill by Amann and an ace by Bevino seemed to have the Lions on course for an easy win in the fourth game with an 18-9 lead. But the Terriers fought back and got within 19-18 on four kills by Arcata.
Foran sophomore Kelly Hunt made sure the ride home to Milford would be an enjoyable one as her kill extended the lead to 21-18 and was part of the 6-0 run which brought the Lions to the title game.
“When it was 18-18 in that third game, it was all about pushing through a couple of points,” Johnson said after taking her team to the first title game in her eight years as head coach. “We just rolled with that.
“They are a very good defensive team and their hitters were putting balls in spots which were not good for us. But, this team battled. Even when we were down, we came back and pushed through it.”
The game started in fine fashion for the Lions as they closed the opening game on a 14-6 run. Setter Bryzy Gonski, who finished with 48 assists and 16 digs, had plenty of options throughout the contest.
Owen and Bevino were the recipients in the opening game as Bevino had four kills and Owen had three. If that was not enough for Rocky Hill to defend, Amann was tough on the line with three aces in the opening game.
“We really just pulled together as a team,” Gonski said. “It is great to have all those options to go to. I know when they are on, they are on. It is great. When they are all on, it is even better. This means a lot, to finally get there after four years of hard work.”
The Terriers, who won the title in 2012, dominated the second game, setting the tone with the first four points. Leading 9-7, Rocky Hill rode the play of Arcata and Iacobucci to go on a 16-6 run to close the game.
Owen finished with 12 kills and Hunt added 10 kills for the Lions.