Special to Illprepvb.com
Brother Rice senior middle hitter Dan Littleton said it best.
“We were kind of sick of it,” he said.
The “it” was losing to Lincoln-Way East. But the Crusaders no longer have to answer questions about that as they rallied to defeat the host Griffins 20-25, 25-15, 15-11 to win the championship of the Lincoln-Way East Tournament Saturday in Frankfort.
Behind Littleton, who was named tournament MVP, and all-tournament selection Kyle Springer (14 kills, 3 blocks against East), Brother Rice (24-5) beat the Griffins (26-3) for the first time in four tries this season. It was the first time the Crusaders have won the tournament in its current 24-team format.
“Coach (Dan Dwyer) emphasized that we have to have the will to win,” Littleton said. “Our main goal is to make it to state, so this is a good win going into the sectional.
“We have a good group of seniors and a bunch of phenomenal leaders,” he added. “Any one of them could have earned the MVP.”
Littleton’s performance, including a 7-for-7 performance on attacks in a 25-15, 25-19 semifinal win over Downers Grove South, helped net him the MVP nod. He had 3 kills in the tile match as Springer and fellow senior outside hitter Tom Phelan (8 kills, 2 blocks) did most of the damage.
Matt O’Donnell dished out 24 assists and fellow senior Tom Kleist had 18 digs from his libero position.
“It’s just good to get the monkey off our back,” Dwyer said of finally defeating East. “They (the Griffins) are a very talented team. We finally had the right lineup, with Tom Phelan on the right side, and we took advantage of it. Just getting on top in Game 2 was key. We felt real good going into Game 3.”
After never leading in the opening set, the Crusaders took charge in the middle of second set. With the score tied 8-8, they went on a 9-2 spurt to take charge. Junior outside hitter Pat McAuliffe started it with a kill, Springer smacked a kill and had a pair of aces and Bill Heisinger had a kill and a block in the burst. East never got closer than 6 points the rest of the way.
“Bill Heisinger was a difference-maker,” Dwyer said of the junior middle hitter. “He had 4 kills and 5 blocks in the tournament, but he’s another presence in the middle and he played great defense.
“We took (the Griffins’) power away from them,” the coach added. “This is the signature win we were looking for.”
The third set was only played to 15 points, and once again a run in the middle did the trick for the Crusaders. They trailed 6-5, but took the lead for good with a 6-1 run. Springer put down a pair of kills in the spurt and O’Donnell capped it with an ace for an 11-7 lead.
Leading 13-11, Brother Rice closed it out on a Griffin serving error and an ace from Kleist.
“After the first set, we were worried,” Springer admitted. “But once we got the lead in the second set, we got energized. It was just our offense. We run a fast offense, and when you get four hands involved in there it’s so much easier to get a kill.
“After three losses we really wanted to beat them,” he added. “With this win, we’ve now won two tournaments (Barrington/Vernon Hills was the other) and hope to get the No. 1 seed (in the Brother Rice Sectional).”
There were four early ties in the first set, the last at 6-6. Then senor middle hitter Mike Herlihy (11 kills), who made the all-tournament team, had 2 kills and a block in a 5-0 run the put the Griffins ahead for good.
Trailing 17-11, Brother Rice got back within a pair of points on two occasions, the last one at 22-20. But two Crusader errors and a kill by senior outside hitter Ian Piet (11 kills) ended the opener.
Junior setter Brent O’Donnell (18 assists) and junior libero Danny Pacini (7 digs) also contributed for the Griffins.
“We have two different styles,” East coach Kris Fiore said of the two teams. “We’re bigger than them and strong at the net. They’re a high-tempo team and push the offense. They are a talented team. We got them once pretty handily (a 25-18, 25-13 victory on April 11), otherwise they have all gone three sets.
“(Saturday’s final) was a high-caliber match,” Fiore added. “We want these to prepare us for late May. We play a really difficult schedule. We want to find our weakness and fine tune what we need to work on.”
East had also beaten the Crusaders 25-18, 24-26, 25-23 in the third-place match at the Wheaton Warrenville South Tiger Classic and 25-23, 13-25, 25-21 in the third-place match of the Smack Attack Tournament at St. Xavier. Both teams, along with Marist and Lockport, are assigned to the Brother Rice Sectional.
In Saturday’s third place match, Lincoln-Way West walked off with a 25-18, 25-16 win over Downers Grove South. Juniors Ben Pluskota (7 kills, 4 aces) and David Flores (20 assists, 3 aces) paced West (22-7).
Before rallying for third place, the Warriors gave East a scare in the semifinals. They led 22-18 and later had a pair of set points in the first set, before falling 29-27, 25-19.
Defending champion Lake Park placed sixth. The Lancers lost to Downers Grove South 25-20, 25-22 in the Gold Division quarterfinals on Saturday morning. After defeating Parkway Central (Missouri) 25-15, 26-28, 15-12, they lost to Downers Grove North 25-11, 25-20 in the fifth-place match.
Lincoln-Way Central defeated Sandburg 25-12, 25-18 for the Silver Division title. The Knights (18-11) were led by all-tournament selection junior Jack Yurkanin. After winning six of its previous seven matches, Sandburg (11-12) fell back below .500.