LAGRANGE — Keystone’s volleyball season ended too early, too quickly and much too painfully Wednesday night.
The Lady Wildcats, top-seeded at their own Division II Sectional tournament but playing without its best player — 6-foot-1 senior Kari Kincannon — lost the momentum and the match to a fired-up, energized, and confident Rocky River team in four games. After winning Game 1, 25-20, Keystone never really got untracked in losing the next three, 25-19, 24-9 and 25-14. Keystone lost for just the second time in 23 matches. The Lady Pirates improved to 15-9.
Kincannon, her left foot and ankle in a protective boot, was scheduled to return to practice for the next match, which will never come. It’ll be the Lady Pirates advancing to Tuesday’s district semifinal against Holy Name, who was a surprise three-game winner over third-seeded Fairview, 25-20, 25-23, and 28-26, in Wednesday’s other sectional title match.
“(River) played really well,” said Keystone coach Dave Cross. “That’s what sports is all about — who played better that night. We didn’t play well at all after that first game. It just didn’t seem like we could get anything going. It was like a snowball getting bigger on us.”
Rocky River grabbed hold of the momentum like a runaway freight train and just rolled from there. It scored in bunches — getting the first four points in the second game and an incredible 10 straight to start the third with Mary Beth Leitch serving four aces. Keystone hung tough in the final game until the Pirates ran off seven unanswered points for a 20-9 advantage to seal the Wildcats’ fate.
“Our defense was the best it’s been all season,” said River coach Kelly Bennett. “Game 3, we got off to that quick 10-nothing run. Mary Beth Leitch went on fire with her serves. She just connected, connected, connected. We were just getting a ton of free balls and a whole bunch of down balls. When we can pass, they had a hard time stopping Maureen Kessler. Everything just came together.”
It really did for the Pirates. As the match moved deeper into the second game, one could sense the confidence growing on River’s side. After the Pirates stopped a five-point Keystone rally early in Game 2, the Wildcats were unable to string more than one point together, other than one three-point stretch the rest of the night.
Keystone saw its first-game 19-14 lead dwindle to a single point at 19-18 before Casidy Gregory put down a perfect set from Krysten Johnson and Erin Gallagher followed that up with another kill off a River block to push the lead back to 21-18. Gallagher and Jocelyn Anderson put up a double-block for another point and even after a substitution violation cost Keystone a point and the serve, Johnson teamed with Anderson for the next point. Chloe Irish’s block finished the game.
However, Keystone had very few rallies after that although it did have leads of 11-8 and 14-12 in Game 2. Unfortunately, the Wildcats were playing from behind the rest of the night as Rocky River’s hitters and defense took control of the net and the backcourt. Senior Katelyn Oster had 24 digs and Leitch 11 to lead the defensive effort. Junior setter Molly McCarthy was credited with 56 assists as she passed the ball deftly to sisters Maureen and Maeve Kessler, who combined for 28 kills and 10 blocks.
Cross obviously felt bad for his players — especially his seniors including Kincannon, who sprained her ankle near the end of the regular season but was expected to be cleared to play by next week.
“We talked about team all year from like July,” Cross said. “Really, they were the first group I’ve ever had that was keeping what was best for the team first in their minds and not bickering and not getting upset about things because someone was getting more playing time. There was none of that. They just did a wonderful job. I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that was so easy to coach in terms of the problems you have during the course of the season.
“They just didn’t play well enough (Wednesday). It hurts.”
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.