In the fourth set of Friday night's Atlantic Sun Tournament semifinals match here at Alico Arena with Belmont Rosenthal decided to let senior opposite Erin Pierce attempt the serve with a 24-22 lead. Usually it would not have been a tough decision, but Pierce, like the rest of her teammates, had not had the best of matches in the area of serving.
After talking it over with assistant coach Samantha Sullivan, Rosenthal decided to let Pierce stay in the match.
“Sam did a nice job of helping me with the decision,” said Rosenthal. “I give a lot of credit to her. Erin had missed three or four of her last serves in a row.
“We made the decision because of her defense. We knew we might have to defend the ball.”
Pierce managed to pick up her third service ace of the match in getting the game-winner and sealing the 3-1 win for the Lady Bisons, It was their 24th straight match win and keeps them undefeated against A-Sun foes with a 21-0 record. They have won 24 straight matches.
The Lady Bisons have advanced to the championship match for the third straight year, winning it in 2007 and losing in 2008. They will face Florida Gulf Coast, the tournament host, in the championship match Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. CST.
Pierce admits she closed her eyes after she sent the ball in the air. Rosenthal watched it all the way.
“It seemed like that ball was up in the air forever,” said Rosenthal. “I really thought the ball was in, and from my vantage point I couldn't tell.”
The Lady Bisons, 27-3 overall won set one 25-20 and set two 25-23. They lost set three 25-15 before rallying in set four for a 25-22 win as the Battle of the Boulevard shifted to the “Sunshine” State. Belmont ended the season 18-15.
Pierce led the Lady Bisons in kills with a match-high 13, including some key kills in sets one and two. Junior middle hitter Alex Kelly, the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, added 12. Junior outside hitter Meghan Hinemeyer finished with 10.
Pierce, Hinemeyer and Kelly all were in double-doubles. Pierce and Hinemeyer each had 12 kills to lead the Lady Bisons. Kelly added 10 kills. Sophomore libero Katie Rose also made 10 kills.
“Erin had a tremendous match,” said Rosenthal. “I think her experience made a difference. She has been through a lot. I really think at some point in that match she just said this is not the way I want to go out.”
One of Rosenthal's few disappointments this season was the fact that Pierce was not named to either the first or second All-Conference teams.
“It's a shame it didn't happen,” said Rosenthal. “I get to see her everyday. Other coaches only get to see her play twice a year. “Erin makes those plays. And in the end we needed her in this match more than ever.”
Rosenthal also singled out the play of Hinemeyer, who helped out as Belmont's defense centered on Kelly.
“Meghan had a great match,” said Rosenthal. “The thing that pushes Meghan is her defense. When she plays strong defense, as she did in the fourth set, she is able to really push offensively.
“I told her I needed her to play her best defense in set four. She came up with some huge digs.”
In the end it is junior setter Stefine “Jake” Pease who makes everything work.
“Erin only gets the ball because someone believes in her and trusts her in really crucial times,” said Rosenthal. “Jake, down the stretch, got the ball to the players with the hot hands. She has a lot of confidence and can make split second decisions.”
Jenny Gray was the only Belmont player in double figures in kills with 10. Megan Clements made a match-high 22 digs for Belmont.
“Belmont did a tremendous job of just fighting, fighting and fighting,” said Rosenthal. “A lot of credit goes to them and a lot of credit goes to our girls in finding ways to make plays. That second set was huge.
“I can't say enough about the passion I saw on both sides of the court. In that fourth set neither team wanted to leave the floor.”
After the setback in set three Rosenthal called his captains, Kelly, Pease and Pierce, together for a little talk about how much talk he was hearing from players on the court.
“I told them there was too much back-and-forth talk going on,” said Rosenthal. “I told them the three of them had been there are year long and they had to take care of it. In the end they had to let the other players know that they had their backs.
“No one was out there making mistakes on purpose. In a tight and tough match you are going to make some of mistakes. Some of them were because of what Belmont was doing. Some of them were just errors here and there. And there were plenty of them by all of our girls.”
The loss in the third set was only the sixth set loss in Atlantic Sun competition for the Lady Bisons this season.
“We had to settle down,” said Rosenthal. “We had lost a set. It was no big deal.
“We are a talented team and I wanted them to be reminded of that. It really goes to show what the three captains have done. I am proud of the work they continue to put into it.”
By Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Media Relations Director