By Bill Landon
Led by the power hitting of Matthew Wertheim and Daniel Murphy, Smithtown East got the best of the Northport’s boys volleyball team, taking the away victory in four sets 25-17, 25-21, 22-25 and 25-21 in Division I action Sept. 19.
“We kind of let up a little bit — we didn’t play as well as we did in the first two sets, but we found a way to get back,” Murphy said. “Northport was a challenge, they came out hard. At first we had them, but then we slumped a little bit.”
Both teams came to the court with identical 3-1 records. The Tigers, coming off a five-set comeback win over Ward Melville the night before. Northport struggled to contain Murphy (14 kills) up front as the outside hitter nailed back-to-back kills to put the Bulls out front 15-11 in the first set. Wertheim (18 kills) made his presence known, and added a pair of his own kills to put the Bulls one point away from winning the match. The Tigers were able to score three unanswered points before the Bulls shut the door.
Smithtown East had momentum on its side coming into the game, having won three in a row. The Bulls only loss of the season was the season opener against Walt Whitman Sept. 5. Looking to build on their momentum, the Bulls jumped ahead 9-5, only to have the Tigers claw their way back to tie the set 10-10. Smithtown East libero Bryan Kaplan slammed home four straight aces to get ahead once more. Both teams traded points, and Smithtown East edged ahead 23-20 before putting away set two.
Northport came out fast in the third set, and mental errors cost Smithtown East the lead, falling behind 14-9. Murphy, equally dangerous from the service line, scored three aces to close within one point.
“I don’t think they were playing to the best of their ability in the first two sets, but then we fell flat, we were overconfident in that third set [and it got away from us],” Smithtown East setter Kyle Shaffer said. “They were better than I’d thought they’d be — their middles are very good and they have great blocking.”
Northport setter Ben Sandt turned the tide with a pair of monster kill shots and the Tigers finished the job to take the third.
“We stepped it up and they were a little flat,” Sandt said. “We passed better, we had a lot more energy and our setter Ryan Parker pushed the ball up front so we could get some kills. We kept our serves in and we rallied off that.”
The Tigers looked to duplicate what they did the night before — winning three in a row — and found themselves in a 12-12 stalemate in the fourth set. Northport mistakes put the Bulls out front 19-17, and then 23-20 before Northport called timeout.
“Yesterday they went down two but came back, and we were worried that they were going to do the same thing to us,” Smithtown East head coach Ray Preston said. “But we were able to battle through.”
The Tigers, desperate to force a final set, scored next, but it was too little too late.
Northport head coach Amanda DiPietro said she saw weakness in her lineup that will be addressed going forward.
“I knew they were going to be tough — we saw them in some tournaments previously and they’re a tough team, they have a lot of talent,” she said. “Our service was pretty strong today, but we need to get better at blocking.”