BRISTOL - The volleyball match Tuesday night between Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central was quite simply one for the ages.
The host Lancers have not lost to the Rams in nearly a quarter century, and that didn’t change in this year’s first contest between the two. Yet for one of the few times since their losing streak in the city began, victory was a legitimate possibility for the Rams as the teams combined on a five-game thriller, with Bristol Eastern coming from behind in the last game to win the match 30-32, 27-25, 25-19, 23-25, 15-13.
“These type of games are things you’ll never forget when you grow up,” Bristol Central senior Peyton Greger said.
From an early 4-4 score, the Rams (7-3) surged to a 9-5 lead in the fifth and final game, a mere six points from beating their city rival for the first time since 1995. But the Lancers (10-0) rallied back to knot the score again at 11-11 and went ahead for the first time since the early part of the game on an ace by Leah Chipman (7 aces, 2 kills, 52 assists).
A missed serve made it 12-12, but a block at the net gave Bristol Eastern a 13-12 advantage and the Lancers won the next point go get within one more point of the victory. A solid kill by Kathryn Ross got a point back for the Rams, but a quick put back at the net by Ryley Plourde gave Bristol Eastern the winning point.
“With the Central-Eastern matchup, a lot of times it comes down to a mental game,” Lancers head coach Stefanie Grey said. “They wanted it really bad. And they were able to get their nerves under control and do what they needed to do.”
Bristol Central came out strong in the first game, dominating play in the early going and taking a 21-11 lead before Bristol Eastern put together a seven-point rally to get back into it. The Rams went on to take a 24-20 lead before the Lancers ran off another five straight points, the last four behind the serving of Rebecca Bender, to take a 25-24 lead.
The game was far from over, as the teams traded points until the Rams were able to pick up three straight to win it, after the Lancers had taken a 30-29 lead.
The second game was more of the same, with Bristol Central taking a big early lead at 17-7 before Bristol Eastern stormed back. The Rams were up 19-12 before the Lancers won six straight to cut the margin to 19-18, but the Rams put together a run of their own for a 23-18 advantage. Then Eastern rallied for five straight to tie it as 23-23 before a serve into the net gave Central a game point.
The Rams couldn’t capitalize as Hannah Webber got a solid kill to tie the score again and Zoe Lowe (21 kills, 11 digs) got an ace to give the Lancers a game point. A long serve knotted the score again at 25-25, but Eastern got a kill and Webber’s subsequent serve was not returned, tying the match at a game apiece.
“I think it was mostly our errors,” Lowe said of Bristol Central’s early advantages in both games. “We gave them almost a whole game of our errors. So, I think that kind of brought us down.”
But that turned around.
“I think that we just continued to work hard,” Lowe said. “We never let down. And I think that was the big thing, because we shut them down, and they shut down and then we won.”
Grey said the Lancers’ comeback in the first game was a key to the match.
“I think the comeback in the first set, even thought it wasn’t enough, it was the big mental hurdle that we got over,” she said. “I think we played more confidently after that.”
The third game was completely different. After Central won the first point, Eastern took the next four and never relinquished the lead after that, even though the Rams continued to battle to keep it close.
The Lancers also held the lead for most of the fourth game, but neither team ever built a lead of more than three points. With the score tied 22-22, a pair of missed serves by Eastern were key as Central was able to claim three of the last four points and tie up the match again.
“I think at times we struggled to kind of finish games. Part of that is we haven’t necessarily been in that moment,” Bristol Central head coach Lance Pepper said.
“I think the girls at times handled the pressure very well,” he added. “Bristol Eastern is obviously a well-established program. They’re never going to give in to whoever they’re playing against.”
The Rams were coming off a match against RHAM (9-0) on Friday in which they handed the Sachems their first loss of a game all season, during a 3-1 loss in the match.
“We were able to get kind of adjusted to the intensity, not only on the court, but also in term of the environment,” Pepper said.
“I think both teams … played as hard as each other. It comes down to the little things. I think we brought our best game, they brought their best game, and why we took them to five,” Greger said.
Greger had 10 kills and 10 digs for the Rams, while Kathryn Ross had 11 kills and three blocks.
“I can’t feel any prouder of these girls and the effort that they put in, both in season and out of season,” Pepper said. “It doesn’t get much better than a Bristol Eastern-Bristol Central rivalry when a game goes to five and we lose by two.”
Sage Scarritt had five aces and three kills for the Lancers.
“Sage Scarritt really stepped in,” Grey said. “I’m really proud of her. She really impressed me. I’m really proud of the way she played. I think she was really strong and really smart, and she’s come a long way this season. I’m really excited to see where she goes.”
Lowe added, “We all obviously work very well as a team together. I don’t think it was our best night tonight at all. We’re definitely a lot better than we played, and we’ll show that the rest of the year.”