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Girls Volleyball: Pierson dethrones Tuckers in five-set thriller

The Pierson/Bridgehampton girls volleyball team has a motto: Do whatever it takes.

What it took for the Whalers to dethrone defending Suffolk County Class C champion Mattituck Wednesday night was to survive a five-set marathon. It took a sensational performance by outside hitter Sam Cox. It took a rock-solid, stubborn defense that returned some of the hardest hits Mattituck had to offer.

And it took composure.

The fifth set was tied at 23-23 before Cox crushed a kill down the line for the go-ahead point and Pierson picked up the match point when the Tuckers couldn’t handle a driven ball. That brought the second-seeded Whalers a wild 22-25, 29-27, 20-25, 25-22, 25-23 triumph and their third county championship, according to coach Donna Fischer.

The top-seeded Tuckers (15-2), last year’s Long Island champions and this year’s League VIII champions, appeared devastated. Following the postmatch awards ceremony, the Tuckers were quickly ushered out of the Greenport High School gym before there was an opportunity to request interviews.

Asked if Mattituck’s exit from the postseason at this stage put a stain on its season, Mattituck coach Frank Massa said: “Think about some of the teams that we have played and how we have played during the year. Yeah, our performance today was a little disappointing, sure. Yep, something was missing.”

But someone was present, and Cox made quite a difference. The senior put away 37 kills.

“Honestly, I don’t recall a time when I played a better match, no,” she answered after the question was posed.

Pierson libero Olivia Cassone said she had never seen Cox play at the level she reached in the final. “She’s incredible,” said Cassone.

Mattituck had taken both of its league matches against Pierson (13-3), a five-setter Sept. 20 and a three-setter Oct. 16. The Whalers managed to topple the Tuckers in the final without first-string middle blocker Gylia Dryden, who is recovering from a concussion.

But Pierson had setter Sofia Mancino (37 assists) and, of course, they had Cox, and that was enough. Barely.

The match turned in a crazy second set that featured five set points and slipped away from Mattituck, which held six-point leads on four occasions. The Tuckers even led at 24-22, yet couldn’t put the Whalers away. Cox slammed three straight kills for a 25-24 edge. Both sides made errors down the stretch before a Mattituck hitting error gave Pierson the set and new life.

“We just pushed through as hard as we could,” Cox said. “We said, ‘We’re not going to let even the thought of a loss get in our minds.’ ”

Mattituck got production from its big hitters, Viki Harkin (20 kills) and Charlotte Keil (13 kills, four blocks, three service aces, three assists). Setters Miranda Hedges (18) and Ashley Young combined for 35 assists.

“I have respect for how hard they work and how they leave it all on the court,” Cox said of the Tuckers. “We both played to the last point, and that’s what made it so interesting.”

In the first set, Harkin delivered a thunderous kill from a ball Pierson sent over the net after it had bounced off an air vent above the court. Harkin later tattooed a ball for the set point.

But Pierson also returned many hard-hit balls by the Tuckers.

“They played a hell of a match tonight,” Massa said. “It was like playing against a brick wall, everything that we hit. They served tough. They played a complete game and we couldn’t match their stamina and we couldn’t match their offensive ability.”

Cassone said: “We played amazing … We moved our feet, we stayed on our toes and we got to the ball. We were like a wall back there.”

An ace by Keil capped the third set after officials conferred to rule that a Pierson player had touched the ball before it flew out of bounds. Pierson picked up momentum over the final two sets and rode it.

“I wasn’t shocked that it was close,” Massa said. “I was shocked that we could never go on a run. We’d get up by two or three points and they’d get around and just put it right back at us. So, they played a great match.”

Cassone said, “I think that there are really no words to describe it in all honesty, but we pushed, we pushed.”

Pierson pushed its way into a Long Island regional match Nov. 16 at Hauppauge High School.

“Mattituck’s a really strong team and my girls were fired up tonight,” Fischer said. “We talked about bringing the I-C-E, the intensity, the concentration and the energy, and they did it. They served tough, they hit, they swung, they were aggressive.”

Cox said: “We knew it was probably going to be one of the toughest games we have ever played before or ever played in our lives, but we walked in and we were like, ‘If we don’t go 110 percent, we’re going to regret it and we’re going to walk out with our heads down and we’re not going to play to our full potential, so we have to do as much as we can.’ ”

Whatever it takes.

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Photo caption: From left, Mattituck’s Jordan Osler, Charlotte Keil and Miranda Hedges react to their team’s five-set loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton in the Suffolk County Class C final at Greenport High School. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)