NORTH SMITHFIELD — For someone who had just watched his team improve to a perfect 9-0 in league play on the season, Tolman High head coach Neil Nachbar sure didn’t seem very pleased.
His Tigers had just manufactured not only a 3-1 victory over gritty North Smithfield in a Division II crossover clash at the Lovett Memorial Gym on Wednesday night, but also a minimum of four individual season-best performances.
Among them were senior captain’s Eric Silveira’s 20 kills and nine aces; fellow senior setter Kelvin Reyes’ 50 assists; and classmate Denzel DePina’s 15 kills (with two blocks).
Another senior, Keanu Perry, chipped in 11 kills and 10 digs to record his first “double-double” of the campaign.
With all of those impressive stats, however, the Tigers had to work for the 25-17, 25-17, 25-27, 25-22 decision. And, much to Nachbar’s chagrin, his kids failed to manufacture a 3-0 sweep for only the third time this season – the other two came against city rivals Shea and St. Raphael (also 3-1 wins).
“One of the reasons some guys had season-high outings was this was the longest match we’ve had all year,” he stated. “It was longer in terms of points played and minutes.
“This has been happening to us all season; that is, we’d have a big lead in a game, or we’d be up one or two games and then let up for some reason,” he added. “We didn’t keep the pedal to the metal.
“It’s something I’ve talked about with the players – continuing to play well with a lead, but we’re not showing that killer instinct when we should … Our serve has a long way to go. In previous years, that would be our No. 1 strength, but not with this team. We’re not showing any consistency.”
On the positive side, junior Kenny Vieira – with his initial shot at serving this spring – mustered four aces, while senior Tyler Harry contributed four kills.
For the Northmen, who fell to 4-5 in II-North, junior Zack Mowry closed with six kills and two blocks, while sophomore Adam Carey mustered six kills and four blocks; junior Anders Viera Dones four kills and four caroms; and classmate Mark Keenan two spikes and a team-leading five blocks.
It was Vieira’s service who helped Tolman jump out to an immediate 6-0 cushion in the opening game, but North Smithfield cut the gap to 8-6 after Austin Le’s serve hit the net. The Northmen later knifed the deficit to 13-9 on a combination block by Keenan and Carey, then 20-17 on junior Brian Lamoureux’s service.
Still, Perry managed four points on his serve, using an ace and Mowry’s out-of-bounds set on the final point to secure the 25-17 victory.
Head coach Jeff Crins’ crew fell behind in the second game, 4-1, before rallying to knot it for the first time at 6-6. The Tigers, however, took control when Silveira served four straight points (with three aces) to make it 15-8. Thanks to another ace, the visitors snared that set by the identical score of 25-17.
During the third, Tolman pounced to a 4-1 advantage again, but – this time – North Smithfield was ready. It earned its first lead of the entire match, 7-6, when a Tolman spike flew wide, but the Tigers rebounded on senior Jason Aguilera’s service.
With it, they mustered an 11-7 cushion; the Northmen didn’t wilt, though.
They battled back to tie it eight times in all, the last at 25-25, before Viera Dones slammed down a kill and Silveira’s kill sailed inches outside the left sideline to clinch for the hosts the 27-25 triumph.
In the final game, North Smithfield led twice, the last time at 8-7, before Vieira strolled to the service stripe. With the tally tied for the third time at 8-8, Vieira took advantage of seven straight points to make it 14-9.
Lamoureux’s ace cut it to 22-18, but Tolman sealed the match when Viera Dones’ soft set sailed into the netting. That gave Nachbar and Co. the 25-22 win.
“In the first two games, we were just too timid; they were going with jump serves and playing aggressively, and we just didn’t play with confidence,” Crins noted. “We didn’t run our offense, but – in Game 3 – the defense worked hard and stepped up, and we crawled back into it. The blocking helped us do that.
“This is a team of juniors, and they’re still learning with every game. Consistency is our biggest issue. No one’s saying, ‘Hey, give me the ball!’ No one’s stepping up and saying, ‘Jump on my back, and we’ll win this one!’ We’re working hard, but – like I said – we’re lacking consistency.
“I will say we’re definitely going to be a better second-half team.”