Bayle’s squad was handed a heartbreaking five-game loss to Mona Shores in the semifinals of the Class A district tournament Wednesday evening at Cedar Springs High School, knocking the two-time defending Class B state champions out after their first match.
Fruitport dropped the first two games, 25-21, 25-17; came roaring back to even the match with wins in Games 3 and 4, 25-23, 25-22; but couldn’t hold off a late surge by the Sailors in the do-or-die Game 5, 15-9.
“It is a different spot for us,” Bayle said. “But I’ve always said, it is good for our program to experience losing, even though we haven’t experienced it this early in a while. It helps you focus on things you need to improve on as a program and as a coach.
“We just got beat by a better team,” she added. “It’s not like we came out and underachieved. The girls should be proud of the way they played.”
Fruitport faced a different challenge this season, as they were bumped up to Class A from Class B. The Trojans received a first-round bye in the district, then had to face a talented Mona Shores squad that had gave them fits in previous meetings throughout the regular season. Bayle was pleased with the way her team responded to the challenge.
“You know, we’re alright. There weren’t a lot of tears,” she said. “We played really good. Actually, our seniors played great. They really stepped up. But Shores was just a little better than us executing at times.”
After falling into an early hole, Bayle said her squad responded by finishing ferociously at the net. Seniors Brandie Jones and Autumn Winger shined in their final prep match, as they led with 21 and 13 kills, respectively.
“Our attack was really strong in those games,” Bayle said. “Brandie and Autumn were siding out like crazy. Our setter put some balls in good positions for quality hits and we made quite a few hustle plays that kept us alive.
“Putting the ball down has been a struggle for us this year. We’ve had to find a way to terminate it and keep rolling. We did that much better tonight.”
In the deciding game, Bayle said both teams came out nervous, with the Sailors’ first three servers failing to execute with a net serve. But their fourth server, Meghan Birr, caught fire, helping the Sailors reel off six-straight points and gain control of the match.
Aside from her exploits at the net, Jones also had four blocks, 19 digs and two aces. Winger totaled four aces and two blocks. Setter Bre Bo led with 23 assists and also had 11 digs.
The loss ends Fruitport’s season at 31-24 overall.
GH ADVANCES TO FINALS
Awaiting Mona Shores in the championship match tonight will be Grand Haven, which breezed past the host Cedar Springs Redhawks Wednesday evening, 25-10, 25-8, 25-6.
The Sailors and Bucs met just one time during the regular season, with Mona Shores pulling out a victory at its outdoor quad on Sept. 5. The match was moved indoors, however, after the courts became too slippery.
Wednesday, Grand Haven coach Aaron Smaka said the Bucs’ stellar play continued with whoever he inserted into the starting lineup. That balanced attack simply overwhelmed the underdog hosts.
“It was just one of those types of nights,” he said. “The kids are just really focused right now. They’re playing really good team volleyball.”
Junior outside hitter Taylor Craymer had a nice evening with nine kills and two blocks. Senior middle hitter Abby Cole totaled 10 kills, five aces and two blocks, while junior Marisa Ejups had six kills and seven digs.
Jami Hogeboom and Andrea Smith each had three aces and Veronica Booth had four digs.
Smaka said his players are confident and excited to play for a district title.
“Our team has grown tremendously since the last time we played them,” he said. “(Mona Shores) is a good, solid team, no question. We’ll find out a lot about both teams (tonight).”