MILFORD, Mass. – No offense to the teams that played earlier in the afternoon, but the nightcap felt like the final. From the atmosphere in the gym to the intensity of play on the floor to the ebb and flow of emotions on both sides of the net, Milford and Natick showed why they are both considered among the top teams in the state.
After falling behind in Friday night’s Central semifinal on its home court, Milford (20-4) rallied with its strongest game of the day to force a decisive fifth set. The hosts led 11-10 in the fifth only to have Natick score the final five points of the match to secure the 3-2 (25-17, 23-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-11) victory.
“My biggest fear tonight was coming in and getting overwhelmed by the moment,” said Milford coach Andrew Mainini, “but there was never a moment in the match where I thought they gave up. Some of the points and some of the rallies, the pursuits of the ball in the fifth set were great. They may have come away with the win but I thought we left all of our heart on the floor.”
Despite a raucous crowd cheering them on, the Scarlet Hawks got off to a tough start to the match. A series of unforced errors handed Natick the edge in the first set, running off five straight points to turn a 13-13 tie into an 18-13 lead that it wouldn’t surrender. Connor Reardon was the main weapon for the Red Hawks, while Milford’s serve-receive struggled to put the ball in good positions to attack.
The second set was back-and-forth, as Milford started to find its groove and find outside hitter Joao Boaventura. The senior had six kills in the set and he was a constant menace that the Natick block had to keep an eye on.
“Our offense has come so far in the last couple weeks that there have been a lot of matches where the ball was spread out a lot,” said Mainini. “[Joao] definitely came out to play tonight, definitely controlled the match and scored some really big points for us.”
While it wasn’t the cleanest set for the hosts, who never led by more than three points throughout, Milford started to show some of its balance on offense. In addition to Boaventura and Filadelfo, Zachary Browne and Clayton Picket also got in on the action to keep the Natick defense honest in the middle of the net.
Natick tried to take the momentum back in the third set and jumped out to a 13-8 lead after three straight errors by Milford. The hosts started to battle back, with the help of a scoring error that kept Natick at 15 points. Despite the protests of the Natick bench, the officials kept the score the same and Milford took advantage to tie it after a pair of violations and a Browne block.
A kill by Filadelfo made it 17-16 but then Natick ensured that the controversy over the missing point would be short-lived by scoring nine of the next 13 points, riding the play of junior Brendan Carroll, to take control of the match.
“Their right side is not a very big guy but man does he play super well,” Mainini said. “We had a really tough time blocking the right side hitter. If we moved inside of the court, he hit outside of the block, if we moved out then he hit inside. To me, he won that match for them.”
With the season on the line, Milford put together its best set of the match. It was as though a switch had been flipped and the defense was better, the passing crisper, and the hits started to find open spots.
Browne snagged a point to bring the Hawks within one and then a block by Gabe Brandao tied the set at 6-6. Filadelfo had back-to-back hits to put Milford in front. Brandao had a block and kill that extended the lead to 11-6. Milford pulled ahead 17-12 on a kill by Boaventura, but Natick chipped away with three straight points. Needing a boost, Orellana set Picket in the middle and he buried his shot for a much-needed point.
As the crowd got louder and louder, Milford was able to hold off Natick in the fourth. Filadelfo with another couple of big hits down the stretch keeping Natick at bay and helping send the match to the fifth set.
“It would’ve been great had it been the final,” Mainini admitted, “but there was something special about it being at home and having the entire Milford community come out. The fan support was awesome. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had an atmosphere that vibrant and intense.”
It was no surprise that the final set was close throughout. Boaventura had back-to-back kills to put Milford ahead 9-7, the second point coming after a long rally in which libero Tiago Carvalho laid out to make a spectacular dig on what seemed like a sure point for the visitors.
Boaventura added another hit to push the lead to 10-8 but then a net violation got one back for Natick and the visitors tied it on a kill by Will Landry. Browne put Milford back in front 11-10 and the crowd anticipated the completion of the comeback, but it would be the last point for Milford on the night. Natick got the final five points, four of them on errors, to grab the road win.
Mainini said, “The guys were diving everywhere to keep balls in play that I didn’t think could be. I feel like they left it all out there tonight. If a couple balls trickle over the net or are two inches in a different direction, the outcome of the game could’ve been completely different.”
From the beginning of the season to the end, there is more growth in volleyball perhaps more than any other sport. That improvement was on full display for the Warriors, who are in the midst of their first season at the varsity level.
Two months ago, the in a season-opening loss to Medfield, King Philip struggled at times to consistently serve in bounds.
Now, the third-seeded Warriors are headed to the MIAA Central Quarterfinals after a 3-0 (25-12, 25-11, 25-13) sweep over #14 South High in the program’s first-ever playoff game.
“They’ve come a long way,” said King Philip head coach Emily Tkowski, “When we started, we were running two simple plays at the beginning of the season, that was it, that was all we could do with our passing and hitting ability. Now we’re running a lot more, back twos, stacks…just that alone, being able to run those plays shows how far we’ve come with our passing, hitting, everything.”
After dropping the opener (3-1) to Medfield, the Warriors rattled off six straight wins and finished with a 14-3 record, only losing to Milford (18-3) and Taunton (defending D1 South Finalists) the rest of the way.
“It shows they love the sport, they want to do well,” Tkowski said. “Anytime we want to introduce something new in practice, their faces light up, they are excited for something different. They’ve been looking at the other teams all season, looking up records, checking out opponents. They are really into it so I hope we can make a good run at it.”
Over those next 16 games, the Warriors improved in all facets of the game, and it showed with one of their best games of the season in the postseason opener against South High.
After committing seven unforced errors in the opening set, King Philip had just seven combined over the next two.
“That’s been tough for us, all season long those unforced errors have really killed us against teams we could have played better against,” Tkowski said. “I thought tonight, this was one of the best games I’ve seen them play as a whole. There were few errors, it was a great game to watch.”
The Warriors spread it around offensively in the opening set as five players recorded a kill. Leading by one early on, King Philip embarked on a 9-2 run that created the necessary separation in the first game. Mike O’Brien (seven kills) had two of his seven total kills in the run while Billy Hughes came up with a key block to put KP ahead 15-7.
King Philip turned to outside hitter Eric Altobello (six kills) to help put the first game to bed. The senior had three kills inside a 5-1 burst that put KP ahead 20-10, and O’Brien added back-to-back kills — the latter a nice tip to find an open spot in the defense — helped give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.
The second set belonged to senior Jimmy Peterson (12 kills, six aces), who got it done both offensively at the net with his attacks and also at the service line with a strong jump serve. With South up 5-2 in the second set, he put down a big kill and then had three aces in the next four points to put the hosts ahead 7-5 — a lead they never relinquished the rest of the set. It also sparked an 11-2 run that forced a timeout from the visitors, down 13-7.
Peterson got back to the net and put down a kill on a quick set from setter Cam Corey (23 assists), O’Brien had back-to-back nice swings, and Peterson shut down an opposing attack with a big kill for a 20-9 lead. King Philip’s Max Armour (four aces, four digs) had two aces late to help punctuate the win and a 2-0 lead.
Two early aces and a block kill from Peterson helped the Warriors jump ahead to a 6-1 lead in the third set. Peterson, Altobello, and Hughes all had multiple kills in the third set, one from Peterson on a set from Aidan Lindmark (eight assists) putting the hosts up 14-7. Peterson once again used a kill and three aces in four points to push King Philip’s lead, and Hughes added a late kill to help seal the win.
“Especially in the tournament, having multiple guys offensively is huge,” Tkowski. “If you have one guy, the other team can just set up a block on him and that’s the game. Having options, like Billy hit great tonight from the right side, having that is going to help us keep teams off balance.”
King Philip boys volleyball (15-3) will host #6 Natick (13-4) on Monday evening at 5:00.
By HockomockSports.com Staff
Milford senior Joao Boaventura has been selected as the HockomockSports.com Player of the Week, presented by Morse Insurance, for April 14 through April 20. Boaventura is the 26th player chosen as Player of the Week for the 2018-19 school year and the third player in the spring season.
Boaventura, the first boys volleyball player to earn a player of the week nod, had a strong week for the Hawks, who went 2-1 during that span and improved to 8-1 on the season. The senior hitter record 58 kills in three matches, helping the Hawks get off to a strong start to a run of five road games in a row.
“After losing our first match of the season to Minnechaug, Joao stepped up and lead by example in two hard-fought wins against KP and Brockton,” said Milford head coach Andrew Mainini. “In addition to impressive stats, what was most noticeable over those matches was how cool, calm and collected he was in high pressure situations and also how much his teammates look up to him. He’s an exciting kid to work and play with, but what makes him really special is how humble and team-oriented he is as a person.”
The week began with the longest trip in this stretch, as the Hawks went out West to take on Minnechaug, losing a hard-fought, five-set match. Boaventura had 15 kills in the loss with just one attacking error. On Thursday, Milford made a much shorter trip to Wrentham for its first-ever varsity meeting against King Philip, Boaventura showed off his all-around game with 18 kills, six aces, and 12 digs during a three-set sweep of the Warriors. The following day, Milford was back at it again, this time at Brockton. With Boaventura leading the way with 25 kills and 16 digs, the Hawks dispatched the Boxers 3-1.
The Player of the Week, presented by Morse Insurance, is selected by the HockomockSports.com staff. Nominations can be submitted throughout the week up until Saturday night at midnight. There may be a poll posted on every Sunday with the nominations. The results of the poll influence the selection but do not strictly dictate the decision.
NEWTON, Mass. – Taunton may have been the top seed heading into Thursday night’s South final at Newton South, the undefeated team having its best season in program history, but the Tigers were squaring off with Needham, a perennial power that had won the past three sectional titles and was only two years removed from winning a state championship.
The Tigers (20-1) had the energy and the excitement of a program on the rise, but it turned out that the experience of having played, and won, on this stage many times before was too much to overcome. Needham won its fourth straight South crown with a 3-0 (25-16, 25-20, 25-11) sweep, although the match was closer than the final score indicated.
In the second set, Taunton led 18-15 and seemed to be on the verge of getting back into the match, but Needham ran off six straight points to grab the lead, the momentum, and eventually the control of the match.
“You have to execute at the highest level,” said Taunton coach Toby Chaperon. “They very rarely made any mistakes. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot. They’re going to rely on their intelligence and their execution and usually it works out.”
At the start of the match, Taunton seemed rushed. The Tigers were obviously excited about the opportunity and making uncharacteristic mistakes. Passes were just a little off target, blocks were a little too close to the net, and the Rockets seemed to take advantage of everything.
“We were excited to be here,” said Chaperon. “We were amped up to play and I think a couple of plays into it they got a couple big blocks and kind of put us on our heels right away and that’s a team when they put you on your heels, they’re going to push you right over.”
Following a Lance Law ace, Taunton trailed just 8-6, but Needham rattled off 12 of the next 16 points to extend the lead to as many as 10. To that point in the set, the Tigers had only two kills, one from Lens Esquil and the other from Collin Hunter.
Chaperon said of the Rockets, “Their defense was almost flawless. The seams that you think are open, they’re able to get them. They get touches, their back row guys are pulling them up. They just play an awesome brand of defense.”
Law had a kill and Marc DeSousa had a block for a point, as Taunton grabbed a little bit of positive play right at the end of the set and the Tigers carried that over despite falling behind in the match. They came back onto the court for the second looking much more composed and confident.
Taunton jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the second, behind hits from Law, Esquil, and Hunter. Needham answered with four straight to cut the lead to three, but Esquil again took a perfect pass from setter Ricardo DaFonseca, who was also a standout defensively throughout the match, and blasted the Tigers in front by four.
“We just rotated it up, so that we could get Lens up front a little bit,” Chaperon explained. “He’s our second best hitter and we tried to get him more swings. We thought he’s one of our better blockers and we thought he could challenge their opposite and outside hitters a little better.”
Things went back-and-forth for the next few points, with Needham getting back within one on six different occasions, but Law and Esquil always seemed to find a hit that kept Taunton in front. After a DaFonseca kill and a hit that went long, Needham took a timeout trailing 18-15. It turned out to be the moment that would seal the win for the Rockets.
Needham came out with two kills by Jack Cruickshank and one from setter Eli Wallace to tie the set. The Rockets scored the next three points before a Malik Charles kill ended the run and Gage Kingman managed to drop a shot in between the entire Needham defense to make it 21-20. Cruickshank and Cam Robins fired Needham to four straight points and a 2-0 lead in the match.
The Rockets made sure that there would be no three-set comeback from the Tigers. Needham took a commanding 8-1 lead in the third and really never looked back, closing out the match with a dominant set. There were moments of energy from Taunton, such as Charles smashing a point down the middle, but the Rockets led the set throughout.
Regardless of the result in the South final, this was the best season in program history for the Tigers and one that Chaperon believes could build for the future.
“It was fantastic. What a great ride,” he said. “They’re one of the best groups of guys I’ve ever been able to coach. Not only are they great volleyball players, they’re great citizens, great students, and they went through their tie where it was a rough road for a couple years, but look what happens.
“You’ve got the whole school behind you and that’s what high school athletics should be about. Every team deserves to play in front of crowds like this.”