Laurel Edwards couldn’t believe it when she saw the ball, finally, land on the court.
The Connetquot right-side hitter tipped the ball over the net, scoring the match-clinching point and lifting the No. 4 Thunderbirds to a five-set victory over top-seeded Smithtown West in the Suffolk AA semifinals on Tuesday. Connetquot won, 16-25, 25-17, 25-20, 21-25, 29-27.
Connetquot will take on No. 2 Commack in the county championship in a rematch of last year’s final on Thursday at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.
“It was back and forth and [Smithtown West] put up a great fight, but we did, too,” Edwards said. “It all came down to that moment and we knew it wasn’t our turn to lose. We weren’t going to let it end.”
Connetquot (16-2) settled into its defensive game plan in the second and third sets, controlling tempo at the net, but Smithtown West refused to go down without a fight. The Bulls (17-2) scored the final six points of the fourth set to force a deciding fifth.
Still, the Thunderbirds weren’t worried and Connetquot coach Justin Hertz said his team had prepared for late-match drama.
“We didn’t expect anything less,” Hertz said. “We got in the huddle and said, ‘Let’s stay focused, stay hungry and find ways to make little points into big points.”
The teams exchanged points early in the fifth set as Connetquot held strong at the net, doing its best to slow down Smithtown West’s offensive rhythm.
“We were being loud,” said Katherine Hickey, who finished with seven blocks. “We had to connect and talk and once we got that it all started to flow.”
Connetquot looked to take control after tying the set at 18-all, but Smithtown West had other ideas. The Bulls scored the next four points, jumping out to a 22-18 lead and Connetquot was forced to regroup.
The Thunderbirds rallied, tying the set at 25 on Diana Migliozzi’s and Kiarra Roth’s play at the net, but Connetquot struggled to put it away. It wasn’t until Hickey gave Connetquot a 28-27 lead that Edwards said the Thunderbirds knew they were going to score the next point. She made sure they did, knocking the ball over and securing the victory after a nearly minute-long exchange.
Now, the Thunderbirds are looking to keep winning, making their fifth straight county title appearance.
“We’re not feeling any pressure,” Edwards said. “We can’t rely on our history or our legacy to help us there. We’re ready to work.”
Commack 3, Northport 0: Abbey Dummler had 15 kills and Carley Haegele added 12 assists to lead No. 2 Commack over No. 3 Northport, 25-14, 25-14, 25-19, in the other Suffolk AA semifinal. Emily Haber had 11 digs, Natalie Billet totaled nine kills and Abby Harper finished with nine aces for Commack (16-0)
“The team was resilient,” Commack coach Anthony Barone said. “We just really wanted it, we were hungry. We were ready to play today and really brought the pressure.”