CRANSTON – Five straight losses. Six consecutive wins.
And a trip to the semifinals.
South Kingstown’s rise from the depths of its bumpy start hit new heights on Tuesday as the seventh-seeded Rebels upset No. 2 Cranston East in the Division I quarterfinals. They were set to visit No. 3 La Salle in the semifinals Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
It’s the second straight trip to the semifinals for the Rebels, but it’s extra special thanks to the starting point. The team had an 0-5 record a little over two weeks ago.
“It feels really good,” said senior setter Ellie Little. “I know we went last year, but we really came in as the underdog this year. Beating the number two team is a really big deal for us. We knew we could do it all season.”
That belief never wavered as the Rebels navigated a COVID pause and the losing streak to start the season.
Cranston East was one of the teams that beat the Rebels in the early going, winning 3-2 on March 31. While the Thunderbolts went on to a 9-1 campaign, the Rebels began finding their way. They won four straight matches to close the regular season then won a preliminary round playoff game to make it five straight.
“We always play better in the end,” head coach Jackie Elmer said. “We just had such a slow start that it was pretty disheartening. But we’ve got some talent and it came together.”
Momentum was still in hand for the Rebels on Tuesday as they raced to a 12-5 lead in the opening set. They eventually pushed the lead to 24-13 on a pair of aces by Little and a kill by Carly Tomlinson. Cranston East somehow staved off 10 consecutive set points to make it 24-23 before Ava Wentworth stopped the bleeding with a kill that gave South Kingstown a 25-23 win.
The Thunderbolts’ comeback effort carried over into the second set, where they built a 24-19 lead. South Kingstown tried a rally of its own, but Lauren Milani slammed down a kill to secure the 25-22 win.
Neither team had much separation in the third set, but three straight kills by Wentworth gave the Rebels a 24-20 lead. Chloe Greene finished off the 25-21 win with a kill.
Game four was all Rebels. From a 6-5 deficit, they won 13 of the next 16 points to take a commanding 18-9 lead. Cranston East tried another comeback, holding off match point six times, but Greene finished off a 25-18 win and the match with a kill.
Greene racked up a whopping 22 kills to go with three aces. Tomlinson added 10 kills and two blocks. Little had 34 assists and excelled at tipping balls over the block, which credited her with 11 kills, an unheard of total for a setter.
“My setter had a really good match,” Elmer said. [Assistant coach Tyler Heroux] was my setter forever, so he’s like the setting coach. He’s working a lot with her and it’s not just putting up good sets. It’s knowing when to set, where, when to dump. Who gets 11 kills as a setter? He’s taught her that mentality.”
South Kingstown gets another chance at revenge against La Salle, who beat the Rebels in their first game of the season, when they were just getting back into the gym after their COVID pause.
“La Salle beat us in three, but it was early,” Elmer said. “We’ll be better. Will we be good enough? We’ll see.”