PAC-6 champion Riverside opens 4-A playoffs with win
It was a grudge match for Riverside, and amid a tornado of purple and gold pom poms billowing in the stands, Pirates libero Victoria Pearce gritted her teeth and played through searing pain, not to be denied a victory over Leesville Road.
With Saturday’s 3-1 win over The Pride, Riverside advances to the second round of the state 4-A playoffs against Fuquay-Varina at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at home.
“We actually have a sense of redemption from last year. Leesville Road was the one that took us out in the second round last year so we feel pretty good about that win, but we still need to focus on the next one and we hopefully will be ready to play Fuquay-Varina on Tuesday,” Pearce said.
“We really wanted to win to prove to ourselves that we could have made it last year, we should have beaten them, and again this year we had a pretty strong year and we wanted to keep that up,” Pearce said.
The senior standout entered the game playing with tendonitis in her right shoulder, and strained her left hamstring in the first set of the match.
“I did feel it, but my teammates kept encouraging me to play through it and I did my best, and I have a great athletic trainer that helps me out with that, and my teammates and my coach helped me,” Pearce said.
“That kid is tough as nails. I don’t think anyone other than God would have gotten her off the floor tonight,” said Riverside coach Mike Hodge. “Hopefully she’ll be ready to go Tuesday.”
The match didn’t start well for Riverside. Leesville Road was on task and looking strong in the first set, winning 25-23, although the Pirates did bounce back from a 15-8 deficit to draw within 24-23 before succumbing.
“I think we started out really strong, but then we sat back a little bit. They’re a very good team and you can’t give them opportunities, and we gave them opportunities,” said Leesville Road coach Christie Dobbin.
“Leesville Road traditionally plays real well in that first set. Our job was to survive their shot, and we were not successful because we made a lot of unforced errors,” Hodge said.
“The second set we told them if you eliminate your errors and if you pass better – because they were serving us off the court – and we stay in the system and run our stuff we’re going to eventually wear them down,” Hodge said.
“They stuck to the game plan and they believe in what we tell them. It’s all about making adjustments, and we were making adjustments, then the game started turning our way,” he said.
“Once we got that win in the second set, then we felt more confident in the third set and the fourth set,” Hodge said.
The second set was nip and tuck throughout, but Riverside took 6 points to 3 at the end for the 25-21 win.
The Pirates used a 9-point run midway through the third set to build a 16-7 lead, then outscored The Pride 9-6 down the stretch to take the set 25-13.
The fourth set was similar to the one before it, with Riverside scoring 8 unanswered points to go ahead 15-2 before closing out the 25-12 win to seal the match.
Hodge said the ultimate difference in the game was the success his hitters had after some adjustments.
“I think our hitters, though we had low hitting percentages, we got lots of kills. They have big blockers, and our hitters were hitting the ball cross court into the block,” Hodge said.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to try something different. You cannot knock down a brick wall. If the blockers are there to the right, hit the ball back to the left, tip the ball over the top, push it to a corner, make a change,’” he said. And once that happened, the Pirates were a completely different offensive team.
Dobbin, who took Leesville Road to a 27-1 record and second-place finish in the state tournament last year in her debut season as head coach, said her team worked hard this year.
“I couldn’t be prouder of them. We didn’t win tonight but we’ve come a very long way. I think we proved to some people that we are quite capable,” she said.
NCHSAA 4-A PLAYOFFS
Riverside 3, Leesville Road 1
23-25, 25-21, 25-13, 25-12
Leesville Road leaders — Sarah Kelly 11 kills, Sam Brown 7 kills, Rebecca Rice 5 kills, Laura Stamman 12 digs.
Riverside leaders — Zariya Thomas 14 kills, 12 digs; Yakima Clifton 11 kills, 7 blocks; Rachel Kallianos 11 kills, 7 digs; Mone Jones 7 kills, 2 blocks; Casey Speer 29 assists, 6 digs; Victoria Pearce 16 digs, 1 assist.
Records — Leesville Road, 14-11; Riverside 24-1.