Pinkerton Academy girls’ volleyball coach Todd Royce and his charges would love nothing more than to put a state championship trophy into one of the award cases in their school’s gymnasium’s main hallway.
There isn’t a girls’ volleyball state title trophy there yet among the loads of PA sports hardware, but Royce and his Lady Astros got a couple of steps closer to putting one there last week with tournament wins over the Bishop Guertin Lady Cardinals from Nashua and the Bedford High Lady Bulldogs.
The preliminary-round besting of BG followed by the backs-to-the-wall bouncing of Bedford in the Division I quarterfinals placed the second-seeded Pinkerton crew into a semifinal-round battle with the third-ranked Nashua North Lady Titans at Pinkerton this Wednesday night, Nov. 5, after Nutfield News press time.
The Lady Astros began their tournament run at a state title Wednesday, Oct. 29, by gaining a huge measure of revenge against a Bishop Guertin team that had knocked Pinkerton out of the small ranks of undefeated teams in Division I a little less than two weeks earlier.
The Guertin group bested 15-0 Pinkerton in Nashua on Oct. 17 and went on to become the 15th seed in the tourney. But beating the second-seeded Lady Astros in round one of the tournament last week – with the academy team hunting for revenge – was out of the question.
The Lady Cardinals continued to toy with the idea of a tourney upset of Pinkerton in game one by pulling out a hard-fought, 28-26 win. But the Lady Astros then clicked into gear and won sets two through four handily by counts of 25-13, 25-14, and 25-12 to end the BG team’s season with a 3-1 match defeat.
Alexis Bowers was a powerhouse for the victorious hosts with her 22 service points and 12 kills, Lexie Verreault contributed 37 digs, Elizabeth Hicks notched 37 assists, Michaela Blackwell bagged nine kills and four blocks, and Olivia Mathieu was good for 11 kills.
But the locals had a whole lot more trouble getting rid of an upset-minded Bedford bunch – which had already eliminated the seventh-seeded Goffstown Lady Grizzlies in round one of the tourney – in a rip-roaring D-I quarterfinal battle in Derry on Saturday night, Nov. 1.
The Lady Astros were just three points away from having their 2014 season come to an end after the two teams were forced to a fifth game, and Bedford built up a 12-6 lead. But the hosts showed what they’re made of by rebounding to take that fifth game and the match.
Based on the way game one went, it looked as though this was going to be a quick match rather than a lengthy and intense one that required five sets.
Pinkerton plowed its way to a 25-8 hammering of the Lady Bulldogs in that first set, and it was hard not to wonder if the Bedford bunch had left its game on the bus.
The Lady Astros soon found out, however, that a different Bedford team would show up for the remainder of the match, and the host team wouldn’t hold even a single lead again until game four.
The visitors knotted the match score at 1-1 by winning set two by a 25-21 score, and then claimed a 2-1 match advantage by winning set three by a 25-22 tally.
The Lady Astros finally enjoyed their first lead in a game since set one when they went up 2-1 early in game four, and they forced the match to a deciding fifth set by winning that fourth game by a 25-21 margin.
But the match appeared to be getting away from the hosts again in that fifth set as Bedford built up a 6-1 lead early.
Pinkerton battled back, but before too long the Lady Bulldogs were up 12-6 and the end of the 2014 campaign appeared to be in sight for the Lady Astros.
However, led by the cool-handed and consistent serving of veteran standout Olivia Mathieu and contributions from everybody else on the court for PA, the locals drove their way to a 15-13 victory that left the hosts celebrating but nearly out of breath at the same time.
Adjourning to another part of the Hackler Gymnasium for a post-game chat, Royce could still be heard yelling, “You never gave up! You never gave up!” to his charges.
“This team battled with its back against the wall, and that has been the case all season,” added Royce when asked about his crew’s effort.
The winning side received 17 service points with four aces and 13 kills from Mathieu, 37 assists and 12 service points with three aces from Hicks, 37 digs from Verreault, 21 digs from Nicole Langlais, 13 service points with five aces and 17 kills from Bowers, and nine kills from Blackwell in continuing to move in the direction of a state title.