KANKAKEE — Fresh off of an all-city win against Kankakee last week, Bishop McNamara had the opportunity to earn itself an all-city crown if the Irish could knock off Bradley-Bourbonnais in Tuesday’s home matchup.
But after a long-fought, three-set battle in a stuffed and stuffy McNamara gym that felt like a sauna on the mildly warm September evening, it was the Boilers who escaped with a 2-1 victory (25-17, 23-25, 25-19).
“It was totally a team effort,” Boilers coach Leigh Reiniche said. “We had girls playing different positions tonight; we moved our libero around tonight to tweak our defense; we subbed in and had people serving that normally don’t serve.
“From top to bottom and left to right, it doesn’t matter; it was all for one.”
It was all Boilers in the first set, as they scored the first five points to open the night. The Irish quickly responded to cut the deficit to 6-5 but never claimed a first-set lead. After leading by as many as nine, the Boilers settled for a 25-17 win in the first.
But once the second set started, the back-and-forth affair began. The two teams tied at three, five and six, before the Irish pulled ahead by as many as six points. The Boilers cut the deficit to one on several occasions, but the Irish held on for a 25-23 win to force a decisive third set.
Irish coach George Hagemaster credited his lineup’s balance, one that was led by the likes of Molly Kurtz, Jacqueline Allaway and Emma Valant.
“We’re a team — we have five or six different hitters that can get the job done,” Hagemaster said. “They work; they know the game.”
Reiniche said the Boilers came into Tuesday’s meeting hoping to feed off the intense energy that all-city provides, playing sound defense and maintaining an offensive threat, three things the Boilers did in the first set and faltered at in the second.
“I feel like we hit all of those in set one and in set two; [the Irish] kind of took it from us,” Reiniche said. “But that energy coming back out in set three with the Red Surge helping us.”
The Red Surge is the Boilers’ student section, one of two rambunctious bunches that filled the bleachers Tuesday, countered by the Irish. Reiniche said she spent the day informing the Boilers’ student body their presence would be vital Friday, and that didn’t stop before the third set began, when she briefly left the team huddle to hype up the crowd.
“I talked to some of our Red Surge kids today. … They were all posting on Twitter how they would be there wearing black; Mac was wearing white,” Reiniche said. “I said, ‘We need you more than you ever know.’ It got down to the third [set], and I said, ‘Every single point, you need to say something.’ To bring that energy to an away game is priceless.”
And that energy was contagious, as the Boilers rebounded from a quick 5-1 deficit to go on insane run led by slender senior hitter Mallory Januski, a run that put them ahead 23-10 and a pair of points away from victory.
Januski said once the points went back and forth in the second, the Boilers knew they were in for a dog fight.
“When it’s neck-and-neck, every point feels like it’s game point,” Januski said. “We were fighting for the match every single point.”
Despite falling behind by double-digits in the final set, the Irish showed resiliency and scrapped back in it by scoring nine straight points to cut it to 23-19 before the Boilers took serve and locked up the match on a Courtney Hunter kill.
“We ran a consistent offense from the outside to the right side, utilizing Mallory any way we could,” Reiniche said. “[McNamara] started shutting her down; we went to Courtney Hunter for the game kill, point and over.”
Hagemaster said the Irish handled the energy of all-city pretty well for the most part, save for the stretch in the third that saw the Boilers take control.
“They had their composure and played with composure the entire game,” Hagemaster said. “They didn’t have one breakdown all game until we had a breakdown that third game, and that was the difference.”
For Januski, a victory at McNamara during her senior season couldn’t be any more perfect.
“Everyone always looks forward to this game; everyone always hypes it up, so it was fun to get the crowds out here and be able to battle with my team,” Januski said. “Just being in this atmosphere, having these crowds battle it out is so fun.”
The Boilers will return home and host Homewood-Flossmoor at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The Irish will be at home at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, when they take on Immaculate Conception.