Down two sets to none, the Foran High girls volleyball team looked like sitting ducks to a tall, talented and deep Sacred Heart Academy team in the quarter-final round of the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament in Hamden on Friday.
Even head coach Julie Johnson, who normally observes the action from a standing position, had taken a seat on the bench next to her assistant, Duffy Lynch.
But the fifth-seeded Lions, sensing a shutout defeat and an early exit from the playoffs, came roaring back.
After losing by set scores of 25-12 and 25-23, Foran began climbing back up from the valley that it had put itself in.
The Lions claimed the third set, 26-24, after being behind, 24-22. Then they took the fourth set, 25-18, with a terrific stretch run after a 16-16 deadlock by outscoring the fourth-seeded Pacers, 9-2.
Up 13-9, however, in the deciding set, the Lions simply couldn’t hold on and lost 16-14, as SHA thwarted a miracle comeback.
Fallon Bevino with 31 kills and 17 digs, senior setter and team captain Rebekah DeRosa with 47 assists and five service aces, and sophomore libero Danielle Kemp with 26 digs led the Lions.
For Sacred Heart, Shannon Bissell had 22 assists while Cameron Maselli had six kills and Jamie Falcha, the team’s libero, had 25 digs.
The Pacers’ 3-2 win, their 15th victory on the season against four defeats, moved them into a semifinal round against top-ranked Cheshire.
For the Lions, it means a wait for the upcoming state tournament.
“I’m happy about the comeback but disappointed about the result,” said Johnson, whose team sports a 13-6 record. “Our problem all season long have been slow starts. You can only fall so far behind in matches.
“Against a team like Sacred Heart Academy [the two teams split in regular-season matches], we simply couldn’t afford to be down 2-0. They have too much depth and too much skill on the net.
“Fallon has the ability to carry this team. But there are times when we have to get back-up support. We definitely needed more of it this afternoon.”
Foran, which hadn’t played in a week, looked sluggish and even intimidated at times in the first set.
At one point, the Pacers, with middle hitter Lexi Iannone finishing with 11 kills and three blocks, went up by 10 points before closing it out with a 25-12 triumph.
The Lions took a temporary lead, 20-19, their first of the match in the second set before the Pacers rebounded.
SHA went in front 22-21 on an unforced error by Foran, before going up 24-22 off of a service point by Erin Kent.
A Bevino kill (16th of the match) cut the margin to one, 24-23, but the Pacers earned the final point on another Foran miscue.
Sacred Heart followed by running off the first six points in the third set and appeared on its way to a sweep.
“We had so much momentum on our side at that time,” Pacer coach Dave Alexandro said. “Then we got very sloppy. I thought part way through the set that both teams looked exhausted.
“We were like them. Because of the storm, we had too much time off. It showed. We showed great heart today, we never gave up.”
Foran earned its first point in game three on a service error by Sacred Heart. Still struggling some the Lions tried desperately to match the Pacers.
When they trailed, 22-16, the situation looked bleak. But a 6-0 run, highlighted by aggressive play, drew the Lions even, 22-22. Bevino then served the two winning points for the 26-24 victory.
Neither team was able to obtain a significant advantage in the fourth set, and swapped leads before the Pacers managed to pull even at 16.
Ignited again by Bevino, Foran went on a 9-2 run for the 25-18 win to force a fifth and deciding set.
Dominating early, Foran held a 13-9 lead and looked like it had the Pacers put away.
But this time it was SHA that wouldn’t fold.
A Foran error gave the Pacers a 13-13 deadlock and the two teams matched points, making it 14-14, setting up a two-point decider.
The combination of another Foran miscue and a kill by Kent gave Sacred Heart the match.
“We still haven’t played our best volleyball, I’m convinced of that,” Johnson said. “I’m just hoping that what happened today will jump-start us.”