After the third consecutive ball either crashed into the net or sailed long and out of bounds, a pleading voice emanated from the grandstands.
“C’mon guys! Serves! Serves!”
Mike Daly got the message.
The Providence junior made the most of his turns at the line, sparking the Celtics to comebacks in both games of their 25-21, 26-24 Catholic League Blue victory over host St. Rita.
Daly finished with 15 service points. If he was not the star then certainly the stabilizer for Providence (8-16, 2-3), which was also led by Tim Doughney (eight kills), Dan Niemiec (eight assists,six blocks, four kills), Nathan Heller (eight blocks, four kills), Bryan Grill (11 assists) and Zach Lake (six digs).
Nick Spallina had seven kills, Tim Dunleavy six kills, John Regan nine digs and Jake Marquardt 17 assists for St. Rita (4-19, 1-4).
St. Rita led 17-14 in Game 1 when Daly turned the tide for Providence with an ace serve. Heller and Niemiec came to life at the net with a block, before Daly sandwiched another pair of aces around a St. Rita miscue.
“As a team we’ve had some problems [serving],” Daly said. “We just have to work on it more. You’ve got to stay confident.”
Daly didn’t leave the line until the Celtics were in front 21-17 after a tip for kill by Doughney. The Mustangs got as close as 22-20, but Providence closed it out with a game-ending kill by Ryan Siegers on an assist from Niemiec.
The early deficit was a bump compared to the mountain Providence had to climb in the next game. The Mustangs played aggressively at the net behind 6-2 Martin Goldrick and Spallina, and after a kill from the back row by Dunleavy led 14-3.
“Our team... sometimes we lack communication,” Doughney said. “That’s kind of our downfall, that and our energy. But when we put that together and coach calls a timeout, everybody comes together and we’re a completely different team.”
The Celtics carved into the deficit with some assistance from the St. Rita light standards, which twice created havoc for the home team’s defenders during a 5-0 streak. As the climb continued, Doughney stood tall at the net, blocking one St. Rita hit, whistling a kill just inside the back line and driving another down a St. Rita double-block.
It was still 24-21 Mustangs, however, when Heller gave the Celtics a gasp of air with a kill for sideout. Daly then went to the line and served an ace. Doughney followed with a block to tie it, before a St. Rita error and a block by Heller completed the stunning comeback.
“There were moments... but that’s kind of where we have faltered a little bit throughout the year,” St. Rita coach Ryan Biros said. “Any time we were close or have the lead, we gave it up too easily. We either get too comfortable, or all of a sudden a team gets a couple of points and we get too nervous. It showed big-time here.”