BRANFORD – It didn’t take long for Branford to assert who was the better team Monday night in the first round of the CIAC Class L girls’ volleyball tournament.
In fact, it took just 58 minutes for Branford to take a 3-0 (25-21, 25-16, 25-7) victory over Middletown at the James L. MacVeigh Alumni Athletic Complex.
With the win, the 13th-seeded Hornets (15-7) will travel to Hand-Madison for a 6 p.m. Thursday second round match against the 4th-seeded Tigers, who had a bye in the first round. The two teams did not meet during the regular season. Middletown, which was seeded 20th in the bracket, finished the season at 9-11.
“We’re playing well,” Branford coach Eva Esposito said. “This is the expectation of where we’re supposed to be.”
Except for a hiccup in the middle, Branford controlled the opening game.
The Hornets raced out to leads of 4-1 and 12-6 before Middletown stormed back behind the serving of Kayla Pieta to take a 14-13 lead.
However, with Diana Karosas collecting four straight serving points, Branford took the lead for good in the game, 18-15.
Middletown kept it close, but Haley Maercklein wrapped it up for the Hornets when she put a tip over the front line of the Blue Dragons. Olivia Lapham couldn’t get to it for Middletown as the ball fell in front of her.
“We talked a lot more today and played together as a team,” Maercklein said. “When we were down, we were really nervous, but we got together as a group in the huddle and said let’s go. Positive attitude.”
Branford dominated both the second and third games of the match, rolling to a 9-1 edge early in the second game. Middletown closed it to 12-7, but that was as close as the visitors could get. Marisa Minore finished out the second game with a hard spike down the left side that Jenna Dickes couldn’t return.
The Hornets didn’t let Middletown get anything going in the third game, taking 8-1 and 19-4 leads. The 19-4 edge was buoyed by eight straight serving points by Adrienne DiGioia. Moments later, DiGioia finished off the match with a long kill that just landed inside the back line.
The big difference throughout the match was Branford’s ability to drive the ball hard down the middle of the Middletown defense.
“When our passing is good, we like to go to the middle,” Esposito said. “When Haley is on like she was, there’s not too many people that can cover the spots she hits to.”
“We saw that the middle was wide open so we just went for it,” Maercklein said.
Middletown coach Kelvin Jones, whose Blue Dragons won just three matches in 2015, said his team just too many mistakes.
“A lot of errors and when you make a lot of them you have to recuperate,” Jones said. “They may have gotten to us in the second and third game. I’m very proud of them, but we came up a little short.”
BRANFORD 3, MIDDLETOWN
25-21, 25-16, 25-7
Branford: Haley Maercklein, 12 kills and 6 blocks; Adrienne DiGioia, 8 kills, 3 aces and was 13-for-13 serving. Marisa Minore, 7 kills. Middletown: Kelsey White, 5 kills; Kayla Pieta, 6 aces and 5 digs.
Records: Branford, 15-7; Middletown, 9-11.