Pilgrim came into Monday’s volleyball match with a 3-3 record, and its three losses were to teams near the top of the standings. With a chance to knock off another of those teams, the Patriots came through with a gritty effort and battled all night against Cranston West.
They would have liked to battle a bit less.
Pilgrim trailed in every game, completed one comeback but couldn’t finish off the others and lost 3-1 to the Falcons, who improved to 5-2.
“We had a few good runs where we scored a couple of points in a row and it looked like we were coming back,” said Pilgrim coach Kelly Harrington. “It’s just unfortunate because we felt like we were trailing the entire time. We felt like it was an uphill battle.”
The loss was Pilgrim’s second straight and it dropped the team’s record to 3-4. The Pats had won three in a row before that, but second-place Exeter/West Greenwich stopped that streak last Wednesday.
Cranston West, who’s in a tie for third, followed that up with Monday’s win. The Falcons won the first game 25-21 before losing game two 25-23. West responded quickly, though, jumping to a 10-2 lead in game three and holding on through a Pilgrim comeback attempt for a 25-20 win. In game four, the Falcons surged late to break a 20-20 tie and seal the match with a 25-21 victory.
“It’s a quality win for us,” West head coach Tom Ferri said. “That’s a good team and they’ve got some new coaches. They’re doing a nice job. They’ll be better the second time around, I guarantee it, so it’s good to get this win.”
The trend that had Pilgrim falling behind started early. West won nine straight points early in game one to take a 12-4 lead. Pilgrim fought back and got as close as two at 23-21 but kills by Courtney Lambrese and Tori Johnston finished the job.
In game two, Pilgrim led 15-10 before falling into a hole again. West won nine straight points to go up 19-15.
This time, though, the Patriots made their push. Consecutive great saves by Kalia Thao, Megan St. Jacques and Alexa Annotti kept a rally alive and Pilgrim ultimately won the point on a West hitting error. That stopped the West onslaught and sparked Pilgrim to win five out of the next six. Thao had two kills to power the surge.
A service error gave West the 23-21 lead, but Pilgrim won the next four points to clinch the game. Colleen Conti finished the run with a pair of kills.
“I’m proud of the way the team pulled together and fought the entire night,” Harrington said. “They never gave up.”
Pilgrim had the momentum after game two, but it faded immediately in game three. Three straight errors plus a kill by Courtney Lambrese set the Falcons up with a 4-1 lead. Tough serves by Lambrese – including an ace – sparked a run of six straight that upped the lead to 10-2.
“In game two, we started off with the serve and Colleen Conti started us off strong,” Harrington said. “In game three, Cranston West was serving at us and we just had a little difficulty in that rotation. Unfortunately we fell behind.”
After Pilgrim made a small run, Tori Johnston had two kills and a block and Lambrese slammed down a kill to make the score 15-8. Pilgrim kept coming and got within one point on three different occasions, but the Falcons ultimately never trailed. A service error gave West game point before Pilgrim couldn’t get a return after a big hit by Lambrese.
The late service error was out of character for the Pats, who have been on target all year. It was a bad time for a rough night.
“I think we had more service errors than hitting errors tonight,” Harrington said. “It adds up.”
The battle continued in game four, but the Falcons seemed to come up big whenever they needed to. Trailing 13-11, they got a tip and an ace from Lauren Salisbury to tie the game. After a Kalia Thao kill put Pilgrim back in front, Lambrese pounded a kill and followed it up with an ace to give West the lead.
Later, a kill and a block by Johnston made it 20-18, but two straight hitting errors allowed Pilgrim to tie the game at 20-20. West took a timeout.
Coming out of it, the Falcons hit their stride.
Johnston put down a kill on the next point to make it 21-20 and give the serve to West’s Elizabeth Paolella. Lambrese followed with two straight kills, the second on a high set that she managed to touch over the block. A hitting error by Pilgrim made it 24-20.
“We got a couple of timely hits when we needed them – finally,” Ferri said. “It was late but we got them.”
The Falcons committed a service error to keep Pilgrim in the game, but on the next point, Lambrese blocked a tip by Megan St. Jacques to give West the victory.
“Courtney Lambrese carried us,” Ferri said. “She really had a good game and we need that. We don’t have as much balance as we had last year.”
Lambrese finished with 20 kills and eight aces. Libero Kristen Traficante led a strong defensive effort with 17 digs, and Salisbury dished out 34 assists from her setter position.
For Pilgrim, Thao had 10 kills to lead the offense. Conti had six kills and three aces, and St. Jacques had four kills and two blocks.
“They kept the ball alive,” Ferri said of Pilgrim. “Not a lot of power, but they kept it alive. I give them credit.”
Pilgrim took solace in yet another close loss. Other than a season-opening defeat to now-unbeaten Narragansett, the Pats have gone to four games in each of their losses.
“It’s exciting that our losses have been in four other than the Narragansett match,” Harrington said. “We’re looking to just improve every single day. I just want us to bring our best effort every day and play to our potential. We have some things to work on in practice to do that. Hopefully we can just continue to climb the rest of the season.”