The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball team thought it had the ability to string points together in its state Class A championship match with Pittsford Sutherland.
That belief was confirmed in Sunday’s first set when the Spartans turned a potential rout into tie, only to fall short.
“During a timeout, I told my kids that, ‘They may win this one, but let’s make it go for more than a couple of minutes,’ ” Spartans coach Gary Bynon said after his team rallied for a four-set victory at the Glens Falls Civic Center. “We knew we could play with them after that. So often, success in one game comes from something that happened in the game before.”
After dropping the first set, 25-21, Burnt Hills took the next three, 25-22, 25-21, 25-21, to capture its second straight New York title and the program’s fifth in 11 years.
The Spartans picked up their defense considerably after falling behind, 18-10, in the first set, and finished off the next three by bunching points in the late going.
“We made them work for everything. Nothing was given,” said Bynon. “Every point we got, we had to earn. That’s an awfully good team we just beat.”
Burnt Hills and Pittsford Sutherland split in pool play Saturday, with the Knights of Section V winning the first set, 25-18, and the Spartans winning the next, 30-28. Kathleen Schurman had 20 kills in that split, and delivered 17 more in Sunday’s final.
“I thought we could play better, and we did,” said Bynon, whose team went 5-1 in the semifinals with sweeps of Kings Park and Walter Panas. “[Saturday], we stayed in games and gave ourselves a chance to win. We had to raise our level.”
Burnt Hills was at its best in the final when sets were up for grabs, closing the second with a 6-3 run, ending the third with a 6-1 spurt and capping the fourth with a 5-1 flurry. Bynon’s 11th-grade daughter, Lindsay, served for the final point of the match, which Molly McCormack created with her 13th kill after handling a right-to-left crossing feed from Jessica Dillon.
“When it’s close at the end, you’ve got to keep your head and stay focused. The whole team does,” said BH-BL senior libero Siena Wilder, the Class A most valuable player. “You don’t have time to think about anything. You swing, dig and make serves, and let it play out.”
Pittsford Sutherland tied the second set at 19-19 on an out-of-bounds hit, led in the third, 20-19, after an ace by Rebecca Gainsburg, and tied the fourth at 20-20 on a net ball to set the stage for Burnt Hills’ closing runs against its taller foe.
The second set was tied 10 different times, and the fourth set was tied on seven occasions.
“When they tie it late, a lot of teams crumble,” said Bynon. “We kept answering. Someone would come up with a big swing. You know you’ve got a mentally tough team when the kids keep coming back like that.”
“We’ve seen them before and knew they had great hitters,” said Wilder. “Everybody had to provide everything they had in them.”
Lynsea Hensel and McCormack had kills to begin BH-BL’s late set-two run, and Dillon ended it with an ace. McCormack pounded two kills and Erica Ziskin served an ace for the final three points in the third set. Kathleen Schurman, Natalie Schurman and Mary Lou Patnaude had kills in the set-four run leading up to McCormack’s match finisher.
“In the middle of game three, Molly asked for the ball,” said Bynon. “We gave it to her.”
Wilder and McCormack led the BH-BL defense with 38 and 26 digs, respectively, and the Spartans as a whole collected 116 digs, some of them quite acrobatic.
“Like coach says, defense wins championships,” said Wilder. “You have to put your body in front of the ball and get it up there. It’s you against the ball. Getting it up keeps points going.”
Dillon sealed her all-tournament selection with 26 assists, six blocks and five kills, and Ziskin totaled 19 assists.
Pittsford Sutherland star hitter Luisa Schirmer had five kills to help the Knights build their 18-10 lead in the first set, and after BH-BL’s 9-1 surge to tie, Taylor Kells and Lauren Blowers had kills to cap a 6-2 counter.
“We came out a little rough,” said Wilder. “Take that away, and maybe it’s a different start to the match.”
Burnt Hills (29-2) made its 11th consecutive state final four appearance Saturday and Sunday, and won its other titles in 2002 (Class B), 2004 (Class A) and 2005 (Class A). Pittsford Sutherland beat Burnt Hills for the 2010 crown, 3-1.
Voorheesville took a set from Section VI heavyweight Eden in pool play, but could not repeat its performance in the Class C final in a 25-19, 25-21, 25-18 loss to Raiders.
“They had a game plan and executed. They’re a great team. They play defense and hit well,” said Voorheesville coach Ashley Swint. “We had to be flawless.”
The Blackbirds (21-1) built a 15-9 lead in the second set before Eden rallied to win it, and the Raiders went on to claim their fourth straight championship and sixth in seven seasons (Class B and C). Class C MVP Lainy Pierce had 12 kills and 33 assists for the Raiders.
“It was our serve receive,” said Swint. “We just weren’t pushing the ball.”
It wasn’t for lack of effort, though.
“Every time they scored, there was a body on the floor,” said Swint, after the Blackbirds third straight final four appearance, and second title-match loss in three years. “We did everything we could.”
Caroline Bablin had seven kills, seven service points and two blocks for Voorheesville, and fellow all-tourney pick Libby Bjork had 13 assists. Mariel McGinnis, the Blackbirds’ only senior, finished with nine kills and nine digs.
“We’ll get back to the drawing board and see what we can do next year,” said Swint.