St. Thomas Aquinas swept Archbishop McCarthy 3-0 on Tuesday night to advance to the state tournament for the first time in Eric Wurtz’s tenure as head coach.
The Raiders turned in an overall stellar defensive performance in front of their home crowd by rallying against Archbishop McCarthy’s kills.
The Mavericks have had the Raiders’ number in the playoffs for a long time, but under the leadership of senior captain Nicholas Rusk, the Raiders finally exorcised their demons.
“I think having it home,” Rusk said, “having it be our last actual home game and having everyone be seniors, gave us a little extra drive.”
The state tournament will be held Friday and Saturday at Pine Crest.
After incurring a deficit initially, the Sharks scored eight straight points in the first set and never looked back. Mourning won by set scores of 25-11, 25-14, 25-13.
Mourning was led by senior outside hitter David Barrera, freshman libero Riain Festge and senior outside hitter Matheus Mera.
The District 12 champion Sharks will face Boca Raton in the state quarterfinal match.
“This is the first year going to districts, and then to win region!” Peluso said. “These guys have been playing together for five years. They have really come together. Things got tight in the third set and they held it together.”
After many years of practicing and working towards a common goal the players have realized they are more than teammates.
“What’s special is we are all best friends. We do everything together and do anything for each other,” captain Blake Adler said. “I have been on varsity since eighth grade and we never made through districts.”
Matt Lirman put up 43 assists during the three sets, and fellow teammate Victor Campano delivered 16 kills and seven digs against Miami High’s boys.
While Manuel Malenciano led the Stingarees with 13 kills and two blocks and six digs to end the season 20-5.
“The end of the match was the highlight of the game,” Adler said. “We had the chance to win. It was 24-24 and we did it. We just played our way.”
Sean Bonner added 9 kills and three blocks for the Raiders (25-3) who advance into the state playoffs against the winner of the Tampa Berkley Prep/Orlando Bishop Moore match.
The first set was close throughout until a pair of late hitting errors by the Eagles gave the Cougars (23-5) a 24-22 lead. Harris scored the winning kill.
The second set was repeatedly tied and looked like more than 25 points would be needed to decide it. Killian score three of the final four points and won the set on an ace by Jose Martinez.
“We knew we had to start strong,” said Jack Harris. “Getting those early kills was huge.”
The third set was dominated by Southwest as the Eagles avoided a sweep.
Much like the first two sets won by Killian, the teams were only separated by a few points during the set. The Cougars scored the final three points and won the match on an ace served by Julian Xuarez.
Killian was led by Damain Horton who had 20 kills. Harris had 19 kills and Gabe Lazarre had 15 digs.
Taravella was down by two sets when it went on a run to force a fifth set. By that point, however, Boca Raton knew not to give Taravella any chance at a comeback. Boca opened the fifth set on an 11-4 run to a 25-22, 25-18, 18-25, 21-25, 15-9 win on Tuesday in a first round play-in game.
Boca, which has reached the playoffs for 11 straight seasons, will face North Miami Mourning in a state quarterfinal match at Pine Crest on Friday.
The Bobcats (19-7) went on a big run before trading points with the Trojans (16-2) for what was a 14-9 lead in the final serve.
Although the Trojans served, the Bobcats worked it around setting up senior outside hitter Vioner Pierre Jules. Pierre Jules powered a kill that went off the fingertips of the Trojans’ frontline and out of bounds for the win.
That winner sent his teammates into frenzy while a good bit of the Boca student section ran onto the floor.