HIGGANUM >> The top of Shoreline Conference volleyball never fails to disappoint and Thursday’s semifinal matchup between No. 2 Haddam-Killingworth and No. 3 East Hampton was no different.
The Bellringers (15-5) defeated the Cougars, 3-1, at the H-K Fieldhouse to advance to Saturday’s SLC championship. East Hampton will meet top-seeded Morgan at Cromwell High School at 6 p.m.
H-K (19-2) looked like they were going to run away with the match after the first set, scoring 13 of the first 14 points en route to a 25-10 win. East Hampton coach John Post then made a lineup adjustment and the Bellringers responded.
“We switched the lineup and it was my seniors, they went into that huddle and said, ‘it doesn’t matter,'” said Post. “The score starts over at 0-0 and that’s all that matters, we have to take this one point at a time.”
East Hampton started the second set by forcing a number of H-K errors. Two aces from Sarah Massie wrapped around a Demitra Kourtzidis kill set the Bellringers on their way, but the Cougars wouldn’t go easily. After an H-K error midway through the second set, East Hampton held an 11-5 lead, their largest of the match.
The Cougars strong hitters, Lauren Brough (11 kills), Olivia Parmelee (17 kills) and Mackenzie Hinds (5 kills and 5 aces) powered H-K to a 19-18 lead after three straight kills by Brough.
“They’re going to get their kills, it’s how you respond after that,” said Post.
H-K reached set point on a Jessica Kasper kill, but couldn’t finish as East Hampton forced five errors in the next six points to win the second set 26-24.
The third and fourth sets were also close. The Bellringers jumped out to a 5-2 lead, but as quick as they took the lead, H-K was right back in it. East Hampton never extended the lead by more than two and H-K led only once at 21-20.
Massie (9 kills) finished the set with a kill and forced an H-K error to give the Bellringers a 25-23 third set victory.
“They just keep coming at you and they make you earn your points,” said Post.
As the fourth set began, the crowd started to realize what they were witnessing: a Shoreline Conference classic.
At least two rallies in the third set lasted 20 hits or more and those defined the entire match. No team would give in.
“It would have been so easy to just lay down and say, ‘We made it this far,'” said Post after his team lost the first set.
The Cougars front row went to work in the fourth set, knowing it was a must win. They recorded 10 kills in the final set alone, but East Hampton played better defense.
“They got a little better rolls on the ball that just landed in there,” said Haddam-Killingworth coach Rich Langer. “They did play good defense, very good. East Hampton played outstanding in the second, third and fourth game.”
East Hampton kept its composure after falling behind 5-2 and eventually took a 14-10 lead.
The Cougars once again reached set point, but couldn’t finish. In probably the longest rally of the game, East Hampton tied the set 24-24. Post made a substitution for a server and it didn’t work as Jennie Eurbin’s serve hit the net, but her teammates picked her up. Kourtzidis’ block was the biggest of the match, tying the set at 25 before two errors gave the Bellringers a 27-25 fourth set victory and a trip to the Shoreline Conference finals.
“The way we played tonight, there’s no limit to what we can do,” said Post. It’s been their conference for as long as I know and it’s going to take at least this kind of effort again.”