OXFORD — The Staples boys volleyball team had to dig deep.
The Wreckers were one point away from trailing Southington 1-0 in their CIAC Class L state semifinal on two different occasions when the Blue Knights took leads of 24-22 and 25-24 in the first set.
Staples wouldn’t give in, however, and found a way to prevail.
Fourth-seeded Staples used the momentum from there to wrap up a 3-0 victory (27-25, 25-22, 25-19) over previously unbeaten and top-seeded Southington on Tuesday at Oxford High.
“We made a lot of mistakes in the first set and I think they were nervous, but they shook it out and started playing Staples volleyball,” Staples first-year John Sedlock said. “I knew after we won that first set that it was time to put the foot on the gas pedal and go.”
The defending state champion Wreckers (20-3) will look to capture their 11th CIAC state crown in the state championship on Thursday at Shelton High when they take on FCIAC rival and No. 3 seed Darien, which beat No. 2 Newtown 3-1 in the other semifinal.
Despite trailing most of the first set, the Wreckers rallied behind Luke Roehm, Logan Carstens and Matthew Epstein. Roehm and Epstein each had two service points, with Epstein registering an ace, down the stretch and Carstens had a block and a kill while Roehm also had a kill.
“We had to bear down and really came together as a team,” Carstens said of his team’s comeback. “We weren’t playing our game and we got back to doing what we do in practice every day and from there we just rode the momentum into all three sets.”
The 6-foot-4, lefty-swinging Carstens ended up with 12 kills and 25 assists and Epstein chipped in with 15 assists and 8 kills.
In the second set, Staples grabbed the lead for good at 4-3 and even though the CCC champion Blue Knights kept things close, coming back to forge a 10-10 tie and closing the gap to 21-20 and 24-22, they couldn’t get over the hump.
It didn’t help that they lost the services of right-side hitter Brandon Wolf, who injured his thumb attempting to block a kill by Roehm early in the second and was out for the rest of the match, eventually going to the hospital. Southington head coach Lou Gianacopolos said losing Wolf hurt.
“It definitely changed momentum, knowing that we have a new guy in there,” he said. “It was the first time we’ve had an injury this year so it was new to them.”
The big hits from Roehm continued throughout the match and he finished with a team-leading 15 kills. The 6-foot-3 outside hitter gave credit to his teammates for giving him chances to put the ball down.
“Logan gives me such good sets and he gives me open opportunities to hit the ball as hard as I can without worrying about the other team’s block,” he said. “To advance to the finals means a lot to me and the team because no one thought we’d come this far. Everyone thought it would be a rebuilding year after graduating nine seniors. It shows that hard work pays off.”
Staples went on top for good at 13-12 in the third and slowly but surely lengthened its lead before pulling away.
Leading the Blue Knights were Tim Walsh and Rocco Possidento, who each had eight kills, and Zack Morgan, who was credited with 25 assists.
Sedlock said he knew Southington would provide a challenge for his team.
“Southington is a very tough team but I think our defense is what carried us to victory today,” he said.
Staples gets another crack at Darien, which has handed the Wreckers two of their three losses, including in the FCIAC title tilt. Thursday’s match will also be a homecoming for Sedlock, who played volleyball at Shelton.
“They took us down twice this season so we’re really looking forward to playing them,” he said.