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Gritty Smithtown West falls in Division I volleyball state final

Smithtown West's Chris Shanley (4) spikes the ball

Smithtown West's Chris Shanley (4) spikes the ball against Penfield's Jack Burke (11) during the match at Suffolk County Community College West on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Smithtown West fought tooth and nail to stay alive in the boys state volleyball tournament but in the end, it wasn’t enough.

The Bulls rallied from a winless start to pool play to reach the championship match at the Division I tournament Saturday afternoon at Suffolk-CCC Brentwood. Though they fell to Penfield in three sets in the final, just reaching the match itself marked the latest bit of history making for a program that had not reached the county final before this season.

“To actually get to the last possible game of the season is what you can only hope for,” coach Mike Legge said of the championship match, which the Bulls lost 16-25, 18-25, 21-25. “The fact that we made it through pool play to play in that last game is awesome.”

After the first two sets of the day, a state final berth seemed anything but certain. Smithtown West (14-3) opened pool play against Penfield (25-0), dropping both sets to the Rochester school, 25-17 and 25-20.

The wins moved Penfield’s record to 4-0 in the preliminary round, meaning Smithtown West and Cicero-North Syracuse’s two sets to close out pool play would determine the other state finalist.

Smithtown West took advantage of a strong start and beat CNS, 25-21, in the first set, but could not close out the second, falling 23-25 to set up a do-or-die tiebreaker set.

“All season, when our backs have been against the wall, that’s when we start playing volleyball and start playing the way we’re supposed to play,” Legge said. “It’s fitting that we were up against it and had to go one more game to get to that last match.”

In the tiebreaking set, Chris Shanley and Jake Torres, who were named to the all-tournament team, helped lead the way, propelling the Bulls to a decisive 25-14 win that set up the rematch with Penfield. Needing those 25 points to continue their season, the Bulls fired on all cylinders, with Tom Bernard passing accurately and Kevin Kelleher and Tom Keller joining Shanley on the offensive end.

In the final, Penfield proved to have too much firepower, but was pushed to the brink in the third set.

“They left it all on the court and fought until the end,” Legge said. “We could have rolled over in that third game, but we pushed them, and you can’t hang your heads on coming in second place by losing to the number one team in the state.”

Added Legge: “I’ll remember the fight and the heart this team played with.”

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