BROOKLY, N.Y. (November 19, 2011) – The Sacred Heart Pioneers battled their way to a spot in Sunday's Northeast Conference Championship Match with a hard fought 3-1 win over Central Connecticut State at Long Island's Wellness Center. SHU would not be denied their shot at defending their title winning 25-19, 25-22, 17-25, and 26-24.
After winning the first two sets, CCSU broke through in the third setting the stage for an epic fourth set that came right down to the wire. Both teams went back and forth, battling to an 18-18 stalemate before the Pioneers would jump up by two. Central continued to fight and got to set point, up 24-22 before the Pioneers closed out the set and match with four-straight points.
"Very, very proud how the team responded down set point," stated head coach Rob Machan. "We have struggled with that intangible all year long but we really executed and gave us a good chance to win."
The Pioneer (26-7) combination of senior Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena, CA) and sophomore Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) led the way for SHU. Roleder finished the match with 24 kills and a .320 hitting percentage. She added four service aces, seven digs and a pair of blocks to her line. Mercado finished with a double double, registering 15 kills and 11 digs.
"One of the intangibles we have been looking for is a great player being able to execute in those moments," stated Machan. "Tonight I thought we had two players do it in Dianis and Kim getting the job done. Getting key kills from both and Kim on the service line helped put us over the top tonight."
SHU overcame a fast start by Central in the first set, hitting .318 as a team as Roleder dominated with eight kills, an ace and a block while hitting .571 herself. Knotted at 9-9, SHU forced a Central time out as Roleder delivered a pair of kills and Mercado and ace for a 12-9 lead. SHU would never trail again in the set, going up 21-15 to force a second time out before a Johanna Ovsenek (London, Ontario) kill ended it, 25-17.
The Blue Devils (20-11) looked on their way to winning the second set going up 16-9 but the Pioneers would rattle off and 8-1 run to tie. At 22-22, Mercado delivered the second set, burying a kill off a long rally and ending it with a kill off the block, 25-22. The sophomore outside hitter finished the set hitting. 538 with eight kills. Central opened the third set up 5-0 and built leads of 12-8 and 20-14 on the way to taking the set and setting up an exciting fourth.
A back and forth set saw neither team able to take more than a two-point lead on the way to an 18-18 score. SHU jumped in front 20-18 as Mercado buried a big kill off a returned ball, forcing a CCSU timeout. The Blue Devils continued to fight and claw and tied the set at 21-21 on an Emily Cochran block. She gave her team a 24-22 lead with a kill following a SHU hitting error but that would be the final points of the season for CCSU. SHU used a timeout and came out on fire as Roleder and Mercado posted back-to-back kills to knot it at 24-24. A block by Alisa Mesa put the Pioneers a point away and Roleder finished the job with her fourth ace of the match sending SHU home 26-24 winners.
Junior Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO) chipped in with 10 kills and a .360 hitting percentage while defensively, seniors Ashlyn Trimble (Temecula, CA) and Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) had 16 and 17 digs, respectively. Mesa dished out 58 assists running the offense.
"LIU is a very, very good team," commented the head coach. "It is going to come down to which team controls the ball tomorrow."
"CCSU came out fighting and we came back aggressive and did our jobs;" said Mercado. "We expect to come out and play our best and we expect the best from LIU tomorrow. It's going to be a great match-up and we are excited about it."
The Pioneers and Blackbirds will square off with for the NEC title on Sunday afternoon at 3 pm from Brooklyn. The two teams split a pair of epic five-set matches this season, both winning on their home courts.