NORTH HAVEN >> The beat goes on for the Cheshire girls volleyball team.
The Rams kept their undefeated season intact on Friday by beating Mercy 3-0 in the Southern Connecticut Conference championship match at North Haven High.
Despite the final score, it wasn’t easy. The Tigers kept neck and neck with Cheshire for much of the first two games before succumbing, then jumped out to a big lead in the third game.
But the Rams proved too tough and rallied to win that one, too, and complete a 25-19, 25-20, 25-21 sweep. It’s the third straight title for Cheshire and 10th overall.
“We had to fight for it,” said junior Jill Howard, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “We were on our game tonight, but it didn’t come easy.”
Cheshire is now 23-0 heading into the Class LL state tournament. The top-seeded Rams will face the Norwich Free Academy/Fairfield Warde winner in their opening game.
Mercy fell to 18-3 and begins play in the states on Thursday against the Masuk/Wethersfield winner in the Class L tournament.
Neither team could pull away through the early part of the first game, and it was 16-16 before Cheshire went ahead for good and gradually pulled away, eventually winning on a Jillian Haberli kill. It was close through most of the second game as well. This time it was tied at 17 when the Rams went ahead for good, again on a Haberli kill, and won seven of the last 10 points.
Mercy came out blazing in the third game and opened up the biggest lead of the match for either team, 12-5.
“We made some bad, uncharacteristic errors,” said Cheshire coach Sue Bavone. “Sometimes these kids play not to lose versus playing to win. And also, give credit to Mercy. They came out fired up in that third game. They wanted that game. We kind of knew they’d come that way.”
Cheshire rallied back to eventually take its first lead, 18-17, on the second consecutive ace by Eva Whelan. Mercy tied it back up, but the Rams scored five of the last seven points to notch the sweep.
In fact, Cheshire won all three matches against Mercy this season by 3-0 scores.
“The first time they played us, they really challenged us,” Bavone said. “They’re very tough in their gym, and they got us swinging at every ball. The second time, I think we pressured them a little bit and got more free balls. This time, I felt like they went back to that attack mode more. And they also started hitting that hard angle, so that was different, too. They’re a very tough team; very competitive and very athletic. We were just happy to survive that third game.”
Mercy coach Sarah Kelley was pleased with her team’s effort on Friday.
“I’m proud of the girls for fighting,” she said. “The last two times we played Cheshire, we didn’t show half of what we had, so I was defimitely happy that we at least gave them a little competition tonight. It wasn’t our best showing, but it definitely wasn’t our worst.”
Howard finished with nine kills and eight blocks, Haberli nine kills, Whelan seven kills and Maria Buzzelli nine digs for Cheshire. Fran Basadonna had 18 digs, Shy Williams 13 digs and Morgan Scahill eight kills and three blocks for the Tigers.