Entering the final day of the regular season, Riverhead volleyball (8-3) traveled to Bellport (8-3) to break the tie for second place with hopes of earning a higher seed in the playoffs. Bellport had lost two consecutive games coming into the day — both 3-0 shutouts — so they were determined to end the losing streak.
It was senior day at Bellport High School; and though the gym was packed, both teams were well represented.
The “Let’s go Bellport” chant on one side of the gym competed verbally against the “Let’s go Blue Waves” chant on the other side but the two were hard to distinguish and created an almost harmonious echo. Each team battled to fend off the nerves as the playoff atmosphere started to make its presence known.
Bellport looked loose. They did their usual handshakes while there was idle time, screamed when they could and jumped around, doing their own little chants of “We believe that we can win. We believe that we can win.”
That was until Riverhead took the third set, making the score 2-1 (18-25, 25-21, 25-21) and putting the Clippers on their heels of their third consecutive loss. The Blue Waves middle hitters were the core of success; Megan Brewer had one of her best games of the season, controlling the net with skill and intelligence as she capitalized on every opportunity she could.
“Megan was very smart out there with her tipping and hitting,” head coach Amy Greene said. “And with her hands, she did a great job blocking. The blocking played a big role today and both Megan and Dezarae did a great job.”
Dezarae Brown, the youngest player on the team and only a sophomore playing her first season of volleyball, was completely dominant throughout the match. Whether it was killing balls, blocking shots or just creating a presence that other teams need to be aware of, Dezarae was lethal; and she just continues to improve.
“We’re a bigger threat when she’s out on the court,” Greene said of Brown. “She even hit that ten foot line a few times. Once she’s consistent, a lot of teams should be scared.”
But the fourth set played out a bit differently. You no longer saw the happy-go-lucky Bellport squad out there; they were focused and unwilling to lose yet another game, sacrificing their magnificent season down the final stretch. Bellport was all of a sudden a more tactical team, tapping the ball over the net and finding open spots instead of just wailing it into the Riverhead zone. Though Riverhead tried to make adjustments, the fourth set went to Bellport 25-22.
The ball stayed in the air back and forth for minutes at a time as each team made crucial digs and saves keeping alive an opportunity to score while building suspense for the enthused crowd.
“Unfortunately, good teams that have been playing club all year will always see holes in the defense,” Greene said. “But that’s what it’s all about.”
Bellport carried its momentum over to the fifth and final set and jumped out to a 18-11 lead swinging away at every given chance to put Riverhead away. But Riverhead wouldn’t give up.
“When we got to the fifth set, I think we got a little nervous but excited at the same time and I think all that got the best of us,” Greene said.
The Blue Waves started to put together consecutive points and with Hali Martens serving, the lead was cut to 18-14. Tensions started to mount, the crowd was silent as each coach took turns calling timeouts.
Behind clutch plays the Blue Waves got the score to 21-18 and then 22-20 before tying the game at 23 on a huge Brewer kill.
But the nerves got the best of Riverhead as Bellport found the holes in crunch time to seal the victory 25-23 deflating the Blue Waves members to near tears as some dropped their heads in complete disbelief.
The game had slipped away but much was learned and in some ways, a loss like this is important heading into the playoffs.
“The girls kept putting the ball away and they never gave up,” Greene said. “And unfortunately we took a loss to a great team today.”
“We’re a lot better team today than we were in the beginning of the season,” she continued. “We’re a lot smarter. The girls are hitting, tipping and covering well and we’re playing together as one unit and I told them at the end of the game that I’m proud of them and it’s great we’re playing this way going into the playoffs. This is the caliber team we will see in the playoffs.”
Though they lost, the Blue Waves (8-4 League IV, 11-4 overall) still received a standing ovation from the Riverhead crowd. They deserved every bit of it.
The playoff seeds will be determined Tuesday night and playoffs are slated to begin on Thursday. Greene expects a seed in the middle of the pack at No. 8 or No. 9.
RiverheadLOCAL file photo by George Faella