By Bill Landon
After leading by two sets, the Ward Melville boys’ volleyball team dropped the next two to send the match into a decisive fifth set, where the Patriots overcame a six-point deficit to defeat the Tigers.
Both teams fought for every point in the first set, which was tied 21-21 before Ward Melville put the set away, 25-23.
The second set was a lot like the first. Both teams tied at 9-9 and again at 17-17, with neither team giving an inch. The Patriots edged ahead 22-20, and were able to take the set, 25-21.
“We were fortunate, early on, to go up 2-0, but we knew they would come back and force that game four,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Holden said. “They’re not a team that’s going to back down and go out without a fight.”
Northport was hanging by a thread, and although the team broke out to a three-point lead, Ward Melville’s Matt Lilley, on a service tear, put his team out in front 13-12, before the teams tied it 14-14. The Tigers edged ahead 19-17, and put the set away, 25-22.
Although his team was down two sets, Northport senior Dom DellaMarco said he was confident his team could turn it around and avoid a shutout.
“In that third set, we knew we had to come together as a team, dig deep and keep pushing,” DellaMarco said. “We can’t let up and we can’t get down on ourselves.”
Northport led the fourth set like it did in the third, and the Tigers surged ahead 21-13 before the Patriots rallied back to trail 24-20.
“We were pretty confident going into that third set, but I think we took a little bit for granted — some of us thought that team would just roll over,” Ward Melville’s Chris Allen said. “But Northport showed us that wasn’t going to happen. They fought back. They’re a quality team.”
Northport senior Nick Bitetto said his team had to leverage their victory in the third set and bring that energy to the fourth.
“I knew we just couldn’t give up — we had to come together and we had to build momentum,” Bitetto said. “We had to fight. We didn’t come this far to lose.”
Northport scored next to win the fourth set 25-20, and force a decisive fifth.
Ward Melville stayed one step ahead of its opponent, as they stretched their legs to lead 15-10. Both teams traded points, and minutes later the Patriots had a 20-15 lead.
Northport wasn’t about to go quietly, and the Tigers closed to within two, 22-20, late in the set.
“We were well prepared; we saw them in a couple of tournaments where we went head to head with them — starters against starters — and we came out on top all three times,” Northport head coach Robert Hamel said. “We knew we matched up well with them. We knew it was going to be a playoff-type of game.”
After several long ball rallies, Ward Melville won the final set, 25-21.
“We knew we needed our passing to come down — when we’re in system, we know we can beat any team we need to,” Lilley said. “We did well in our transition, passing and hitting, and because of that, we got better and better in the fifth set.”
With the win, the Patriots improve to 10-3 and Northport fell to 8-6. Both teams are still headed to the playoffs, which begin Nov. 3.