Fairfield, CT - Sophomore Elise Sage (Colorado Springs, CO) slammed home 19 kills as the top seeded SHU volleyball team defeated #4 Central Connecticut State 3-2 Saturday afternoon to advance to the NEC championship game tomorrow. NEC Setter and Player of the Year Courtney Kidd Kadlubek (Santa Barbara, CA) supplied 54 assists as the Pioneers reach the title game for the second consecutive season. Christina Bauch (Trabuco Canyon, CA), Ashlyn Trimble (Temecula, CA), and Johanna Ovsenek (London, Ontario) all recorded double digit kills in the victory, with Bauch and Trimble also notchinig double-doubles.
The two sides played a five set match to conclude the regular season last week and went at it again tonight for a full five sets. For the third time in 2010 the Pioneers got the better of the Blue Devils, also making it three years in a row that SHU has dispatched its instate rival in the NEC tournament. Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) led the Pioneer defense with a team high 18 digs on the backline.
Sacred Heart (28-6) jumped out to an early 8-3 lead in the opening set, taking seven of those points on kills. Sage went a perfect five-for-five on swinging attempts in the set as the Pioneers hit a solid .323. But the Blue Devils would rally in the middle portion of the set and took four-of-five points, the final on a Danielle Gasser ace to close the gap to 15-12, SHU. NEC Coach of the Year Rob Machan used his first time out of the match to allow his team to regroup. The Pioneers responded with a 6-2 run that moved their cushion to 21-15. Sage and Bauch dropped in back-to-back kills to the end the first set 25-15 in favor of Sacred Heart.
Central Connecticut State (11-18) capitalized on 13 Pioneer attack errors in the second set en route to taking the frame 25-22. Emily Cochran paced the Blue Devils with a pair of kills in the set and 13 for the match. CCSU took its biggest lead at 12-7 after an Amanda Bayer ace coupled with a SHU error. Sacred Heart rallied to tie the set at 16-16 on one of Bauch's three kills of the afternoon. After tie scores of 16, 17, 18, and 19 Central Connecticut won back-to-back points to take a 21-19 lead. The Pioneers made attack errors on each of the final two points of the set as the Blue Devils evened the match at 1-1 overall.
The Pioneers stormed off the bench after the intermission to grab another quick lead, taking a 10-5 lead on a kill from Maile Hetherington (Thousand Oaks, CA) Sage again led Sacred Heart with five kills in the set as SHU hit at a .227 pace while holding the Blue Devils to a -.029 clip. Trimble had a terrific set in the third, recording four kills and eight digs without making a single miscue. A late CCSU run in the set made things interesting as the #4 seed closed to within 18-16 after a service error from the Pioneers. Sacred Heart again ran away with the set late, winning six points on Trimble serves to setup set point at 24-17. She would finish the frame three points later at 25-20 to put the Pioneers one set away from the championship match.
The Blue Devils had other ideas and had put on a hitting display in the fourth stanza, a 25-16 CCSU win. Central Connecticut notched a .406 hitting percentage with 17 kills and only four errors. The visitors won six straight points on the serve of Maite Mendizabal to grab an early 6-1 advantage. The Pioneers closed the gap to 11-9 but CCSU took the next three points to maintain a comfortable four point lead. Blaike King ended the set with one of her ten kills of the match. Sara Delacey supplied three of her total 11 kills for Central Connecticut in the fourth set.
Sacred Heart displayed its mental toughness right away in the fifth and deciding set, shaking off the last game to immediately take a 3-0 lead and force the Blue Devils to burn a timeout. A Cochran kill cut the Pioneer advantage to just 6-5 and gave the Blue Devils the serve. SHU again rebounded with three straight points on back-to-back kills from Hethrington and Mercado paired with a service ace from Mercado, the 2010 NEC Rookie of the Year. The Pioneers dropped the next rally but again rattled off three straight to take a commanding 12-6 lead. All-NEC first team selection Sage gave SHU a match point with a kill and Mercado put away the very next point to begin the celebration and send Sacred Heart to the NEC championship game with a 15-10 triumph in the fifth set.
Sacred Heart squares off with second seeded Robert Morris, who also played a five set semifinal match, tomorrow at 3:00 pm in the Pitt Center with the Northeast Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line.