NORTH KINGSTOWN — After an unbeaten regular season, the North Kingstown boys volleyball team knows it will get everyone’s best shot in the playoffs.
So far, so good on responding to that challenge.
The Skippers had a few bumps in the road against Cranston East in Tuesday’s quarterfinal match but took control when they needed to in a 25-17, 25-20, 25-15 sweep.
“It’s definitely a big momentum builder,” senior Brendon Bennett said. “We know everyone is trying to get the championship just as much as we are, so it was nice to get the win here tonight.”
The top-seeded Skippers will now host No. 4 South Kingstown in the semifinals on Thursday at 6:30 p.m, the next hurdle in the quest for the program’s first state title since 2014.
Cranston East made North Kingstown work to clear the first hurdle. The opening set was close, with the Thunderbolts getting within two at 17-15. The Skippers won the next five points thanks to two blocks and a kill by Shawn Murphy and a block by Mason Andrade that made it 22-15. A kill by Andrade and a hitting error on Cranston East finished out the 25-17 win.
The ’Bolts broke a 10-10 deadlock in the second set for a 14-10 lead and stayed in front for a few more points, pushing the lead out to 17-15. Kills by Murphy and Sebastian Yates sandwiched a Cranston East hitting error and put the Skippers up 18-17. After the ’Bolts tied it, Murphy landed a kill, Nolan Trask came up with a block and Andrade slammed home a kill. Another Andrade kill got the Skippers to set point, and they won it on an error by Cranston East.
“There were times when it got a little bumpy, but we have great chemistry and we could kind of take a step back and get back into our groove,” Murphy said.
Two kills by Yates and aces by Andrade and Sean Cheney powered the team’s best start of the night in game three. The Skippers went up 7-3 and wouldn’t trail for the rest of the set. Yates and Noah Casey had kills, and Andrade served up two aces as the lead grew to 16-10. With wins in six of the next seven points, the Skippers headed for the finish line. A block by Trask and Bennett finished off the sweep.
“We’re a solid team all around,” Bennett said. “We knew if we just kept pushing through, we would eventually get it.”
The Skippers flashed a balanced effort on the attack. Andrade led the team with 10 kills, Casey had nine, Yates and Murphy tallied eight each and Bennett had five kills. Trask finished with 34 assists. Chaney totaled 14 digs.
A rivalry matchup with South Kingstown awaits in the semis. The Rebels are the only team to take a set from the Skippers all season, having played them to a 3-1 final in May. The Skippers swept a second meeting in the regular season finale.
“They’re a good team,” Murphy said. “We’ve got to respect them. But I think if we play our game, we’ll be all right.”
South Kingstown trailed two sets to none in its quarterfinal match with Chariho but came back to win 3-2.