AMHERST — The sentimental choice to win Tuesday night’s showdown for first place in the Southwestern Conference would have been Amherst.
Army Sgt. Dan Makruski, father of Comets freshman middle hitter Ashley Makruski, returned to Amherst on Friday following a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. His presence at the match against Avon Lake was recognized before the start of play and hand-held flags were given to those in attendance.
An Amherst victory might have made for a better narrative. Avon Lake, however, was just too good.
The Shoregals, defending conference champions, moved into sole possession of the SWC summit with a 25-19, 25-27, 25-15, 25-20 win.
“They were the better team tonight,” Amherst coach Laurie Cogan said. “We had trouble keeping up with their size. I think that was the difference.”
For a brief time it looked as if Amherst, No. 19 in Division I in the state coaches’ poll, might grab momentum. The Comets rallied from an 18-10 deficit and pulled out the victory in Game 2.
That only made Avon Lake (12-3, 10-1 SWC) angry, according to a couple of players.
“It was the same thing that happened when we played them the first time,” said Isabelle Wagner, referring to Avon Lake’s four-game victory on Sept. 6. “We lost the second game and won the next two.”
The Shoregals won the third game going away. Avon Lake opened an 11-3 lead and was never seriously threatened.
“We came harder in that game than even in the first game,” Christine Bohan said.
“We said, ‘Let’s get mad,’” Wagner said. “It’s easy to get ahead by a lot and think you’re going to win. Then, all of a sudden, you say, ‘Oh, my gosh!’ We knew that even if we had a big lead we couldn’t assume we would win.”
“We talked about that,” Avon Lake coach Dan Berkheimer said. “We said we have to keep pressure on good teams like Amherst. We lightened up in the second game. All sports are 95 percent mental and we have to learn that. Physically, we’re a dominating team.”
Avon Lake scored the final six points of the first game, a game that was tied seven times. Lauren Bakaitis had four kills and Wagner served two aces in the closing run.
Amherst (14-4, 9-2) avoided defeat in Game 2 thanks to an Avon Lake hitting error that tied the score at 24. Kills by Mallory Sliman and Morgan Dziak and a last Shoregals hitting mistake ended the game.
Sliman and Dziak combined for nine kills and two block kills in the second game. They combined for zero kills in Game 3.
Avon Lake jumped to an 8-3 lead in Game 4 before the Comets closed to within 14-13. The Shoregals scored five in a row to go up 19-13, but Amherst rallied to draw within 22-19. Three kills by Bohan, who paced all hitters with 19 kills and four block kills, ended the match.
“A couple of Avon Lake’s rotations gave us trouble,” Cogan said. “They almost scored at will in those rotations. In a close match we can’t afford those runs. They did too many things we couldn’t stop.”
Wagner added 13 kills and led the Shoregals with 17 digs. Katie Mihalic had seven kills and two block kills. Bohan served six aces, including five in Game 4. Whitney Craigo had 36 assists and Bakaitis added 15 digs.
Makruski had a good night for her dad’s return to his hometown with 11 kills and one block kill. Sliman had 11 kills and seven blocks, including four block kills. Dziak finished with seven kills. Riley Schenk had 22 assists and nine kills. Hannah Brosky and Erica Turner led Amherst in digs with 15 and 11, respectively.
Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.