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SOUTH KINGSTOWNâ€”Aside from the obvious proximity between South Kingstown and Prout, Wednesdayâ€™s Division I-South girls volleyball game was a critical contest given the path each squad had worn through the first third of the season.
The Rebels (1-2 D-I South) and Crusaders (2-2 D-I South) each entered the game having beaten Chariho but lost to both North Kingstown and Coventry, meaning third place â€“ and potentially playoff seeding down the line â€“ was up for grabs.
As expected, each game was tight but when the high pressure points towards the end of the match rolled around the Crusaders rose above en route to a 25-22, 25-19, 26-24 victory.
â€śIt was important just to show that we may be similar but weâ€™re still growing, weâ€™re still getting better,â€ť Prout outside hitter Olivia Hirst said. â€śWe played strong.â€ť
â€śWe played them in the Injury Fund and we had a really fun time. It was a pretty even match but I think we just didnâ€™t have it in us today,â€ť SK setter Emily Taylor said. â€śWe were just out of it.â€ť
Through the first 36 points of game one neither team gained an advantage greater than four but with the game tied at 18-all Prout jumped ahead after a hit from SKâ€™s Mariclaire Gulla missed its mark and an ace from Proutâ€™s Michaela Cavanaugh.
On the ensuing point a kill from SKâ€™s Steph Laraway appeared to have landed inside the end line but was ruled just out, extending the lead to 21-18.
The Crusaders led 23-19 when Laraway went on a three-point run â€“ sandwiching a tip around two kills â€“ to cut the deficit to just one but the Rebels couldnâ€™t close it out after a tip from Proutâ€™s Grace Pendergast and another Laraway attempt sailed wide left.
South Kingstown responded in the second game and led 19-17 late but thatâ€™s where things fell apart as the Crusaders finished the game by scoring eight straight behind some strong play at the net by Aly Fairbrother and back-to-back aces from Allie Chretien to end it.
Despite the unfortunate finishes for the Rebels to end the first two games, the third appeared to be on a different track.
After falling behind 2-0 the Rebels responded with six straight points â€“ two of which aces from Taylor â€“ and never trailed through the gameâ€™s first 30 points.
Prout took the next two rallies to go ahead 17-15 but unlike earlier in the night the Rebels responded behind a series of strong defensive plays to build a 23-20 lead.
A combination of unfortunate and unforced errors allowed the Crusaders to tie the match though, as a ball that took an awkward bounce of the ventilation system, a carry on another and serve-receive error on a third cost SK the lead.
â€śWe kept up with them but our communication needs to get better,â€ť Taylor said. â€śWe let a bunch of balls drop with no one saying anything.â€ť
The Rebels caught a break when Kayla Crosbyâ€™s serve caught the net to give SK its first game point of the night but the Rebels returned the favor when Kayleigh Clausonâ€™s ensuing serve sailed long.
With the match on the line it came down to whichever team would stick to its game and as it turned out that would be the Crusaders.
Rather than focusing too much on keeping the ball in play, Hirst played the same way she had all night and took a full swing at a Chretien set on the ensuing point. The ball boomed off her palm and hit the floor with a thud to bring up match point.
â€śShe knows how to swing,â€ť Walsh said. â€śShe didnâ€™t miss tonight and she was our go to hitter. She put the ball away for us.â€ť
Prout followed with the same play but this time the Rebels were there for the dig. Unfortunately for South, no one was there for the set and the ball fell to the ground amongst a crowd of Rebels.
â€śThose last points are really pressure points and if you over think it youâ€™re not going to put the ball in,â€ť Walsh said. â€śItâ€™s really important to just keep playing your game in those moments. The girls really wanted to win and you could tell.â€ť
Both schools will have an extended break before returning to action, as SK will host Mount St. Charles Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and the Crusaders will travel to take on East Providence Thursday at 6:30 p.m.