Pats hold off Titans in five-set thriller

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The Pilgrim girls’ volleyball team squeaked out a 3-2 win in the season opener against Toll Gate at Pilgrim on Friday evening.

Pilgrim jumped out to a 2-0 advantage in the match, but Toll Gate fought back to force a fifth set before the Pats finally prevailed.

“Overall, I’m happy with our team effort,” Pilgrim head coach Kelly Harrington said. “Happy that we were able to keep the momentum up throughout all five games, and of course happy with the outcome. And it’s always a battle with Toll Gate. We’ve had some epic games to five with Toll Gate over the years and this was just another one.”

Toll Gate head coach Ryan Garno thought that his squad played better during the second half of the match.

“The first two sets, I don’t think we played well energy wise,” Garno said. “They got it together in the third set and showed a lot better ball in the fourth set. It’s just that we kind of teetered out there at the end.”

Despite Pilgrim giving up a 2-0 lead, Harrington didn’t feel that her team let up at all during the match.

“No, I think we gave our best effort every point and just tried to stay focused mentally,” Harrington said.

Toll Gate’s Brianna DeRobbio opened the match with back-to-back aces, earning the Titans a 2-0 advantage. Pilgrim captain Isabel Allaire answered with a point on a return in front, pulling the Pats within 2-1. Shortly after, Pilgrim got an ace from Tyler Olivelli to go up 4-2. However, Toll Gate’s Christa Fitzsimmons followed a Pilgrim return error with an ace and tied the set at 4. Fitzsimmons served two more aces after that to give Toll Gate a 6-4 edge. The teams would continue their seesaw battle with Pilgrim’s Ashley Ferreira batting a pair of aces, while helping the Pats to a 7-6 advantage. Toll Gate tied it when Jillian Higgins assisted to Katie Arthurs. But, Pats’ senior Julia Conti got Pilgrim some separation when she hit three aces, and her teammate Olivia King followed with a point, putting the Pats up, 14-8. Pilgrim went up by as much as 23-16 before King finished with the dagger, earning a big kill in front to give Pilgrim a 25-21 win of set one.

Pilgrim jumped out to a 5-2 lead in set two after Olivelli assisted to Allaire for a kill, and Ferreira scored with a return. However, Toll Gate rallied to tie it at 5 when Fitzsimmons hit a pair of aces and Arthurs scored a point.

Nonetheless, Pilgrim built some buffer room again. It started when Olivelli fed Marilyn McKay for a kill to put the Pats up, 7-5. Then, Jordan Tiberi struck fire, scoring four straight aces to give the Pats an 11-5 lead. Later in the set, Pilgrim took an 18-10 margin when McKay buried an ace. Toll Gate was able to cut the deficit to three when Higgins scored four straight times on serve. However, that’s as close as it would get. McKay earned a block on Danielle Dionne to get the Pats to game point. Then, Conti scored on serve to give the Pats a 25-20 win of the second set, plus a 2-0 advantage in the match.

Pilgrim opened up the third set with a 4-2 lead when Emily Goff hit an ace after she passed to Conti for a point. A little bit later, Conti swatted three consecutive aces while helping the Pats build a 9-4 edge. Pilgrim went up, 15-5, when Jenna Salisbury scored on a return before she added five straight points on serve.

The Pats held a 22-14 advantage, and it looked like they would sweep the match. However, Toll Gate had other plans. Following a serving error against Pilgrim, Toll Gate’s Higgins fed Fitzsimmons for a point, pulling the Titans within 22-16. Next, Fitzsimmons hit back-to-back aces, and Marissa Stern scored on serve, pulling the Titans within 23-20. After that, Higgins passed to Dionne for a point, making it 23-21. Fitzsimmons followed that with three consecutive aces and put Toll Gate on top, 24-23. Then, Higgins assisted to Dionne, who landed the set-winner, giving Toll Gate a 25-23 win of the third set and pulled it within 2-1 in the match.

Pilgrim jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the fourth set, but the Titans took over after that. Toll Gate used four straight points from Dionne to build an 11-8 edge. Pilgrim was able to tie it at 14, but Toll Gate’s Link and Dionne helped get the Titans a 19-15 advantage on their way to a 25-18 win of the fourth set, and forced a winner-take-all fifth set.

Toll Gate jumped out to a 5-1 lead when Link hit an ace and Dionne followed it with a spike. However, Pilgrim would score four straight points after that, tying the game at 5. Later in the set, Olivelli connected with McKay to give the Pats an 11-8 edge. Then, King smashed three aces in a row to get the Pats to game point at 14-8. Pilgrim won the match seconds later on a dig from Conti, taking the final set, 15-9.

It was no coincidence that Conti got the game-winner; the senior could be seen hustling all game.

“I think Julia is a good part of our team and a big contributor,” Harrington said. “She brings experience and confidence and she’s one of our captains, and we can always count on her to give it her best.”

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