WESTMORELAND — When things got tight, Sauquoit Valley’s CJ Mazza came up big.
The senior middle hitter recorded 16 kills, 3 digs, 3 blocks and 3 aces, many during critical moments, as the Indians swept Westmoreland 3-0 (27-25, 25-19, 25-22) in Tuesday’s Section 3 Class D boys volleyball semifinal. Sauquoit advances to the Class C final where they’ll meet Canastota at 5 p.m. Thursday at Oneida High School. Canastota defeated Herkimer 3-0 in Tuesday’s other semifinal.
The Indians (7-10), who were swept by the Bulldogs in the regular season, also received 13 assists from Alex Philpotts, 10 kills and four digs from Josh Ward, and 12 assists and three kills from Aidan Spataro.
“We always play better when we’re calm and relaxed,” Mazza said. “When we play relaxed, we play like we did tonight. It was definitely our intensity tonight. We played with intensity, but still were able to remain relaxed and play our game.”
Mike Sweeney had 14 assists, seven kills and four digs for the Bulldogs (8-9). Westmoreland also received key contributions from seniors Carlos Colon (12 digs) and Sam Sill, who had eight kills and three blocks.
“We had a bad mentality today,” Sill said. “We didn’t play well and our coverage on tips wasn’t there tonight. It was a tough loss but it was a great season.”
In the opening set, Sauquoit Valley built a comfortable lead and appeared to be headed to an easy victory. The Indians led 14-8 after a five-point run, led by tough serving by Mazza. The Bulldogs made a few runs to narrow the lead, but Sauquoit still led 22-17 after Mazza put away a perfect set by Philpotts.
The Bulldogs responded, winning seven of the next eight points to gain a set point. The final point in that run was a great hustle play by the Bulldogs’ Bryce Daskiewich, who turned the point around with a diving dig.
Sauquoit didn’t fold under the pressure and staved off the first as Westmoreland made an unforced error that knotted things at 24. The Indians returned the favor by dumping one into the net to give the Bulldogs another set point, but Sauquoit rattled off three straight points to take the set.
The first came on a kill by Ward to make it 25-25. Then Mazza made a lefty kill, his fifth of the set, to make it 26-25. Ward, just a sophomore, ended the set in style with an ace to give the Indians a huge lift.
“He’s not the most flashy or dynamic player, but he’s the most consistent player we have,” Sauquoit Valley head coach Joe Miller said of Mazza. “Really those two (Mazza and Ward) have been our most consistent players all season.”
Sauquoit used that momentum to its advantage and jumped out to a 14-5 lead in the second. The Bulldogs rallied and trailed just 20-16, but Mazza’s had two kills and a block to help the Indians take the set 25-19.
“Losing that first serve after we made that big comeback was a big momentum shift,” Westmoreland head coach Tim Gates said. “That was a lot of work with no result. Then we got off to a slow start in the second, and then we couldn’t gain any separation in the third.”
Once again, the Indians got off to a hot start to take an early 4-1 lead. Playing with some desperation, the Bulldogs, behind a kill from Sweeney, plus a kill and block by Joe Schreck rattled off seven of eight points for an 8-5 lead. The teams traded leads throughout the middle of the set, but the Indians took the lead for good and led 18-16 after three straight errors by Westmoreland.
“We didn’t play well,” Gates said. “We had a lot of kids on vacation last week and we weren’t able to practice and we were a little rusty tonight. But Sauquoit played well. They hit the ball well and handled the ball very well. That’s the best I’ve seen them play.”
Trailing 23-18, the Bulldogs made one final run, winning three of four points to close to within 23-21. With his team needing a point, the Indians again received a big play by Mazza, who made a nice block that forced Westmoreland to hit it into the net.
Westmoreland denied the Indians’ first match point as Sill smashed a kill off Sauquoit’s block. On the next point the Indians ended it on a perfect setup as Brandon George passed to Philpotts who made a perfect set to Ward for the clinching kill.
“We covered well and (Westmoreland) hurt themselves,” Ward said. “We came together. The chemistry was there. Our passing was on and we were energetic and didn’t play flat-footed.”
Mazza is excited to extend his high school career.
“It feels great,” Mazza said. “We had some struggles this season. Nobody thought we’d get here, but we made it and will play Canastota in the final.”
The Indians certainly had to deal with some growing pains, but are playing their best volleyball at the right time.
“In the beginning of the year we were six individuals on the floor,” Sauquoit Valley head coach Joe Miller said. “Now they are a team. Canastota will be a tough game, but we’ll go out and do waht we did today. In the sectional finals, anything can happen.”
Section 3 Class C Semifinal
Sauquoit Valley 3, Westmoreland 0
Set Scores: 27-25, 25-19, 25-22.
Sauquoit Valley (7-10): CJ Mazza 16 kills, 3 digs, 3 blocks, 3 aces; Alex Philpotts 13 assists, 1 dig, 2 aces; Josh Ward 10 kills, 4 digs, 2 aces; Aidan Spataro 12 assists, 3 kills. Chris Knapp 3 digs, 1 ace; Anthony Malysia 2 kills, 1 assist; C.J. Mancini 2 assists, 1 kill; Brandon George 3 digs.
Westmoreland (8-9): Mike Sweeney 14 assists, 7 kills, 4 digs, 1 block, 1 ace; Carlos Colon 12 digs, 2 aces; Sam Sill 8 kills, 3 blocks, 1 dig; Cameren Rothdiener 9 digs; Mike Allogio 4 digs; Joe Schreck 4 digs, 1 block, 1 kill; Justin Matteson 2 kills; Russell Schreck 4 kills; Bryce Daskiewich 1 ace.