STOUGHTON, Mass. – When the official blew his whistle to bring an end to the point, he pointed towards Middleboro and it appeared that the visiting Sachems had just come from behind to take the opening set in Monday night’s Div. 2 South quarterfinal.
The Stoughton bench and players immediately contested the call, and after a brief discussion it was determined that the officials had been mistaken. The player had been on the front line and was allowed to go for the hit. The point was ordered to be retaken and the Black Knights got a kill from Delaney Nagel to tie the set at 26-26.
Stoughton went on to win each of the next two points and the first set and then used that momentum to sweep aside Middleboro in front of a vocal home crowd to reach the sectional semifinal.
“When he reversed the call, they were so down, but we were so excited we got the point and we had another chance to come back,” said Stoughton senior Molly Turner. “That excitement, that energy was so huge for us. Once we got that momentum, we were able to get a couple of easy points.”
Stoughton coach Erica Batchelder added, “We definitely did it to ourself, being in that first set making a lot of errors, but we really came together as a team and brought it back to get the win. The end of the first set, we drop that and it may have been a different story but getting that one point it really kept us going.”
The Black Knights fed off the enthusiastic crowd, which included a decent contingent of Middleboro fans as well. The energy flowed from the stands onto the court.
“It’s amazing,” Turner said of the crowd. “We’re a very energy-based team and we rely so much on our fans. They get so into it, they get so hyped up when we do things well. When we use their energy, we play far beyond what we can if we didn’t have them.”
Stoughton jumped out to an early 6-1 lead in the first following kills from Nagel and Alexa Quinones. The Sachems battled back by winning six of the next seven points and the set remained close from that point forward. Turner won a point with her serve and Nagel had another kill in the middle to make it 16-13, but again the visitors went on a run, winning six of the next seven.
Trailing 21-18, Stoughton went on a run to give itself a chance at set point. Quinones, Turner, and Amaya Morris each had kills to tie the set at 22-22. Hanna Holden made it 24-23 when she reacted first to a serve that barely skipped off the top of the net and found a hole in the Middleboro defense.
A couple of mistakes gave Middleboro back the lead and it seemed as though the Sachems might have stolen the opening set, but the Black Knights rallied for a critical point.
“It’s been our story this entire season,” Batchelder admitted. “We haven’t had an easy win all season, they really work hard. Oftentimes we find ourselves down and have to fight our way back, but it definitely got us ready for the postseason.”
The second set was far more straightforward for the hosts, albeit still very close from start to finish. A Rachel Goulston ace put Stoughton ahead 12-8, its largest lead in the set to that point. The Black Knights built the lead up to six points at 20-14 behind two kills from Quinones and an ace from Mia Bennett. Bennett, who finished with a team-high 25 digs, also added a couple of big hits from the back line for points. Stoughton won the set 25-21.
Leading by two sets and on the brink of the win, Stoughton didn’t take its foot off the pedal, jumping out to 11-7 and 15-10 leads. Although Middleboro battled to get back within one, Stoughton was able to keep its composure to secure the win.
“We knew we had to close it out,” Turner said. “We’ve had tough times in the third in the past, so we knew this was a huge one. We knew what we had to and we went out and did what we had to do and we closed it out.”
The Black Knights showed great balance on the offensive side with several players providing contributions. Nagel and Quinones each finished with eight kills and Turner chipped in with five kills and 16 digs.
“My starting six really work the ball around,” said Batchelder, “so it’s really tough to cover us because we don’t have that one player who if you stop you can stop our whole team. We really work the ball around well and keep everybody involved in the game.”
Stoughton (16-4) advances to face No. 3 seed Greater New Bedford Voke on the road.
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