Rochester, N.Y. - April 15, 2011 - Led by Alberto Bravo's match-high 17 kills and nine digs, the top-seeded Springfield College men's volleyball team advanced past fourth-seeded Baruch College in the first semifinal of the 2011 Molten Division III Men's Invitational Championship on Friday evening. Springfield prevailed 25-20, 25-20, 22-25, 25-17.
The Pride, which improved to 16-13 on the year, advances to the national championship which will take place on Saturday evening. Springfield will try to win its record seventh Molten title on Saturday at 8:00 pm against the winner of the Nazareth/Carthage semifinal. Baruch, which made its first appearance in the Molten Championship, ended its season with a 34-15 record.
Bravo, who was named the Most Valuable Player of last year's Molten Championship, pounded out a match-high 17 kills to go along with nine digs. Mike Pelletier notched 13 kills while hitting .348 and digging seven balls, while Cal Palumbo, who was named the 2011 AVCA National Player of the Year on Thursday, added 10 kills at a .500 clip, two blocks, and two aces. Mike Becker delivered 44 assists and Nick Ferry registered eight digs for the Pride. As a team, Springfield totaled eight service aces and hit .333 .
Baruch was led by its All-American duo of Eryk Kowalski and Pablo Oliveira, who combined for 28 of the Bearcats 41 kills. Jesus Echevarria dished out 33 assists in the loss, while Vincent Cruz tallied a match-high five blocks.
The Pride used tough serving to set the tone in the opening set. After dropping the opening point of the match, Springfield scored the game’s next four after a Palumbo kill gave Springfield a 4-1 advantage. The Pride’s lead grew to as many as six at 9-3, before a crafty kill by Tommy Crow forced Baruch into the first timeout of the match at 11-6. Springfield would not let Baruch get within more than five and eventually snagged a 20-13 advantage after another big swing by Bravo. Baruch clawed back in the match to get within 24-20, however their sixth service error of the set gave Springfield a 25-20 first set win.
After Bravo converted for a kill to make it four-all in the second, the Pride poured on a 7-1 run, capped off by a big block by Falcone and Crow, to take a 11-5 advantage as the Bearcats called a timeout. Kowalsky would break the Pride’s spurt with a cross court kill to make it 11-6, but Springfield continued to put the pressure on the Bearcats. Pelletier would connect on back-to-back overpass kills as Springfield’s advantage ballooned to 18-10. Baruch would not go away quietly, despite trailing 22-13, as it benefited from three-consecutive Springfield attack errors, to get within four at 23-19. However, a Bearcat error on the ensuing play gave Springfield set point, and Palumbo then gave the Pride a 25-20 win after his fourth kill of the set.
After a ten minute break between the second and third sets, the Bearcats came out on fire. A Cruz ace gave the visitors an early 4-0 lead and forced head coach Charlie Sullivan into his first timeout of the evening. Springfield battled back as consecutive aces from Palumbo got Springfield within one at 5-4. Springfield would eventually take the lead in the set and owned a 12-10 cushion after Bravo buried an ace down the line. However, Baruch held tough and opened up a two-point lead of its own at 16-14, as Springfield called its final timeout of the set. After a huge block by Cruz and Oliveira gave Baruch a 21-18 lead, Springfield used kills from Palumbo and Bravo to get within two at 22-20 and forced a Bearcats timeout. Springfield could not complete its comeback and Kowalski hammered a high set at the pin to give the Bearcats their first set win of the match.
Springfield continued to struggle to start the fourth and found itself trailing 6-2 after Kowalski and Ray Satagaj's block found the back left corner. Trailing by as much as five in the set, the Pride wouldn’t back down and forced Baruch into a timeout trailing by one at 13-12. Out of the break, Springfield opened up a 5-0 spurt behind the powerful serving of Crow to take a commanding 17-13 lead. Oliveira would pound home a kill to get the Bearcats within three at 19-16, but Springfield's offense finally found its rhythm as it completed the four-set win, 25-17. Falcone recorded the final point for Springfield as his serve clipped the sideline for the win. Hitting .542 as a team in the stanza, Pelletier was tremendous for the Pride as he connected for five kills on seven errorless swings in the game.