CLIPPERS 21, 18, 25, 25, 25, ROYALS 25, 25, 17, 19, 20
The Greenport/Southold girls volleyball team was trailing by two games and on the ropes. Then, sometime before or during the third game, something changed in a dramatic manner. The Clippers decided that they weren’t going to lose their final home regular-season match of the season, and they didn’t.
After dropping the first two games, Greenport/Southold rallied to overcome Port Jefferson in five games on Thursday night at Greenport High School and keep its league title hopes alive. A service error by Port Jefferson on match point prompted the Greenport/Southold players to swarm around each other and celebrate as if they had won a title or a playoff match. What they did, though, was survive a 21-25, 18-25, 25-17, 25-19, 25-20 thriller.
“It was painful, it was terrifying, and I’m so glad that we pulled through,” said Greenport/Southold middle blocker Kim Bracken.
By turning in their sixth straight win, the Clippers (11-1, 10-1 Suffolk County League VIII) stayed within striking distance of first-place Shelter Island (11-2, 10-0). Greenport/Southold will play its final regular-season match on Tuesday at Shelter Island in a contest that could determine the league championship. The Clippers are seeking their first league title since 2002, when they were the co-League VIII champions with Hampton Bays.
Knowing the implications a loss would have had, the Clippers undoubtedly felt the urgency to win on Thursday night.
“I want a banner really bad,” Greenport/Southold left-side hitter Shelby Kostal said. “Yeah, it was a lot of pressure this game.”
And yet, despite the early hole they found themselves in, the Clippers responded in a positive fashion, perhaps something they would not have done in years past.
“The big difference between now and years past is now they can come back,” Greenport/Southold coach Sue Kostal said. “Before they could never come back.”
The Clippers found their game in the nick of time. A sign that the momentum had shifted may have come on the winning point of Game 4 when a hit by Greenport/Southold’s Marina De Luca sent the ball running horizontally along the top of the net before dropping over for the game-ending point.
“I guess once that we saw that we were down and that we had the potential that this could slip from our grasp, we just pushed 10 times harder,” Bracken said. “We weren’t going to lose.”
Suddenly, a team that had looked lost in the first two games, turned the tables. It was Port Jefferson (7-6, 7-4), a team with a scrappy defense, that crumbled in the fifth game.
Speaking of the Clippers, Port Jefferson coach Bob Conlin said: “They had a great comeback. They didn’t shut down. They played better the third, fourth and fifth games than they played the first and second. They stepped it back up. They weren’t making some of those unforced errors that they were, and that was the difference right there.”
Although the two teams are a good match for each other, Greenport/Southold’s serving was superior to Port Jefferson’s. The Clippers put 96 percent (109 of 113) of their serves in play, with 15 of them going for aces. Bracken went 25 of 25 on her serves, and Megan Demarest went 18 of 18.
Port Jefferson produced five aces and 84-percent serving (90 of 107).
With the loud home crowd cheering the Clippers on, the rest of Greenport/Southold’s game came through, too. The hard-swinging Shelby Kostal knocked down 17 kills. Demarest produced 37 assists. Bracken contributed eight kills.
The first five-game match of the year for either team went Greenport/Southold’s way.
Port Jefferson, which had lost to the Clippers in three games in their previous meeting, received 12 kills from Rachel Nielsen, 11 kills from Katie Lochren and 35 assists from Amanda San-Roman. The Royals had won four of their previous five matches.
Greenport/Southold’s five seniors — Bracken, Demarest, Kostal, Nina Papamichael and Megan Van Gorden — were given flowers and hugs during a pregame ceremony. The Clippers expect to play a home playoff match, possibly against Port Jefferson, but the Senior Night festivities accompanying their final home regular-season match may have helped them.
“All of the energy we fed off from the crowd,” Bracken said. She added, “It just helped us that much more. It felt great.”