CHESHIRE – Over the first two games of the Southern Connecticut Conference boys’ volleyball championship match, Shelton only led once.
And that came early in the first few moments of the first game.
But then the Gaels (16-5) made a strategic change in their defense and roared all the way back to stun previously undefeated Cheshire to win their sixth SCC tournament title with a 3-2 victory (15-25, 15-25, 25-21, 25-22, 15-13) on the Rams’ home floor Friday night.
“It’s such a huge win knocking off the No. 1 team in the state,” said Shelton’s Patrick Devaney, who was named the tournament Most Valuable Player. “They beat us twice in the regular season, but this gives us a world of confidence going into the state tournament.”
Cheshire (19-1) dominated the first two games with hitters Mike Stickney and Andrew Hart doing most of the damage. Shelton struggled with Cheshire’s height advantage, but that’s when Blanchine made her move.
“We moved the defense up instead of sitting back,” Blanchine said. “We didn’t want to give them tips or those things over the block.”
The other thing she told her Gaels was that they didn’t come to go out in three games.
“I told them we didn’t want to give them the SCCs for nothing,” Blanchine said. “We didn’t lay down and die. We fought hard and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Shelton finally got its second lead of the entire night on the third point of the third game and then took the lead for good in the game at 6-5. The Gaels extended their lead to 10-5, but the Rams charged back to within two, 11-9. Shelton didn’t let the Rams get any closer to cut the Cheshire lead to 2-1 in games.
“We knew it wasn’t over and we kept pushing and pushing,” Devaney said. “We definitely got more confident, showed there was more game left and we could beat them.”
However, Cheshire controlled the fourth game in its early stages, taking a 10-7 lead. But the Gaels fought back and tied it at 12-12. Shelton kept taking a one-point edge until the hosts tied it a 20-20. Shelton scored five of the next seven points with Devaney ending the game with a kill to tie the match at two games apiece.
The Gaels seemed to have things under control for the first 12 points of the fifth and deciding game as they took a 10-2 lead. But Cheshire, seeing its undefeated season on the brink, rallied to pull within 13-12. However, a tip by Tyler Nolan and a kill right down the middle by Devaney ended it.
“We ended up not stressing their passers and they were able to set middle all night long,” Cheshire coach Sue Bavone. “They did a nice job of blocking our outsides, but we really had no answer for their middles.”
Bavone added that seeing the undefeated season go by the wayside will be a character builder for the Rams going into next week’s state tournament.
“It’s tougher for them than it is for me,” Bavone said. “Undefeated is nothing to me. We have a bigger thing that we’re going after and that’s the state title.”
SHELTON 3, CHESHIRE 2
(15-25, 15-25, 25-21, 25-22, 15-13)
(SCC Championship at Cheshire)
Shelton: Patrick Devaney — 21 kills, 4 blocks and 5 digs; Matthew Wojslow — 17 kills, 4 blocks and 7 digs; Tyler Dolan — 36 assists, 5 kills and 6 digs. Cheshire: Matt Russolillo — 38 assists, 1 kill and 1 dig; Mike Stickney — 15 kills, 2 blocks, 1 ace and 1 dig; Alex Feldman — 9 kills and 1 block.
Records: Shelton, 16-5; Cheshire, 19-1.