By Ron Buck
SHELTON — The Class M boys volleyball state final had the top two seeds going head to head for the third time this season.
Newington not only beat Cheshire for a third time, but completed a state championship three-peat.
No. 1 Newington beat No. 2 Cheshire 3-1 after dropping the first game at Shelton High School. The Indians went on to a 16-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-22 win and finished the season at 24-3. Cheshire, the SCC Tournament champion, closed at 20-5.
“This team doesn’t quit; it never has,” said Cheshire coach Sue Bavone. “I felt like we were all over the place in those last few games. We had a shot. We definitely had a shot.”
After Game 1, the Rams were on the inside track. Led by setter Luke Pinciaro (31 assists), they raced out to an 11-6 lead against what looked to be a shaky Newington squad. Several net violations and services points gave Cheshire the early lead.
Cheshire’s lead grew to 15-7 on a block and kill by SCC Player of the Year Colby Hayes (12 kills). Two kills by Aidan Godfrey, who would finish with a team-high 14, made it 18-11 Cheshire.
The Indians went on 5-2 run behind 6-foot-9 Ted Fravel to get within 19-16. Fravel had a pair of powerful kills to force a Cheshire timeout.
The Rams responded to Bavone’s words by scoring the next six points to win Game 1, 25-16. Alex Irizarry provided the winning swing with a untouched spike across the Indians’ backline.
Game 2 saw the Indians look more like a two-time defending Class M state champions. They took a 7-3 lead en route to tying up the match at one game apiece.
Newington took Game 2 behind the net play of Fravel (17 kills). He and Jacob Baclawski dominated as Newington started to show off its impressive play at the net.
Newington led 14-8 after a Fravel block and spike. The Newington lead grew to 19-12 before a pair of Godfrey kills got the Rams within 20-16. Newington, however, closed out Game 2 with a 5-0 run as Louis Egbuna provided the winning kill off a pair of Cheshire blockers.
With the final down to a best-of-three match, Newington put Cheshire on its heels in Game 3 by taking a 12-6 lead. Two Rams’ errors extended Newington’s lead to 14-7. An Egbuna kill made it 17-10.
Cheshire, however, came back to make it 22-18 on a block by Hayes. An Irizarry kill and Tom Bonitz’s sneaky tip helped the Rams gain some momentum.
But Newington closed out Game 3 with a 3-1 run behind Egbuna, who provided the winning point off a pair of Cheshire blockers and was on his way to 15 kills on the night.
In Game 4, Cheshire fell behind 12-7, but rallied to 13-11 and forced a Newington timeout. The Indians came out of their huddle to take 17-12 lead.
Godfrey got Cheshire within 18-14 with a kill. Egbuna came right back with a pair of powerful swings to get Newington within five points points of the title.
Cheshire refused to go away, tying things up 21-21 on a Godfrey kill. Newington scratched back ahead 23-21 and 23-22 before sealing the deal 25-22.
“I think a lot of it was they have been here before and we hadn’t,” Bavone said. “I think nerves started to show up there in the last few games.”
Newington played without 6-foot-5 All-Conference junior Mason Romero, who fractured his ankle playing basketball prior to Tuesday night’s state volleyball semifinals. Romero watched from the bench in a walking boot.
Newington swept Wethersfield in semifinals. Likewise, Cheshire swept Farmington.
Newington has now won six of the past eight state titles. The Indians’ three-peat comes after winning back-to-back titles in 2014-15 and the crown in 2012. Newington also won the 1994 title.
Cheshire was playing in its third state final after winning back-to-back state Class L titles in 2011 and 2012.
The Newington-Cheshire match was late in starting. That’s because the earlier final pitting Staples and Darien in Class L went five games, with Staples winning 3-2.
Staples avoided a collapse in beating Darien 3-2. The Wreckers, who beat top-seeded Southington in the semifinals, won the first two games before the Blue Wave forced a fifth and deciding game.
Newington’s only three losses this season were to Southington – and all went five games. The Indians fell twice to the Blue Knights in the CCC regular season and to Southington in the CCC Tournament final.
Newington beat Cheshire twice during the regular season by 3-1 scores. Those loses came in the Rams’ first four matches of the season on March 30 and April 8. Since losing to Joel Barlow on April 12 to start the season 2-3, the Rams had gone 18-1 and won the SCC tournament.
Its only loss during that stretch was to Class L No. 2 seed Newtown, which lost to Darien in the state semifinals.