Following a stunning Game 2 loss to Garfield, evening the match at a game each, the Belleville boys volleyball team was one game away from being ousted in the second round of the North I state playoffs, for a second consecutive season. This time, it would've been on their home floor.
The six Buccaneer seniors weren't about to let it go down like that.
Belleville came out on fire in Game 3, jumping out to an early 5-0 lead before taking full control, and cruising to a comfortable 25-11 final game win and a 2-1 (25-13, 20-25, 25-11) victory on Thursday, securing the program's first ever trip to the state semifinals.
"I was like, I'm not getting knocked out in my house," said Belleville senior Tommy Rosario. "But this year, we said we're making it to the semis, we're that good of a team."
Julian Rodriguez was a man on a mission and an unstoppable force for most of the contest. He led all players with 16 kills, while also racking up 13 digs, nine service points, two blocks and an ace. He was simply a beast on the floor on Thursday.
"He deserves to be first team all state in my opinion and I hope he gets it," said Belleville head coach Paul Aiello. "He has such court sense and court awareness that he is able to turn something bad into something good with one stroke of his arm. ...We're very lucky to have him."
Rosario, Luigi Zanoria, Emil Amparo and Carl Laroco were also fantastic in the victory for Belleville. Rosario picked up 11 kills, 10 service points and two blocks and Zanoria earned 28 assists. Amparo and Laroco combined for 59 digs, and were a huge reason why Garfield's big hitters couldn't get much going consistently.
"My seniors knew that this could be their last match, we have six of them on the floor and five of them got all league," Aiello said. "They are a brotherhood and they weren't going to let it happen."
The Buccaneers came out ready to play, taking an 18-3 opening game lead, which included a stretch nine straight Belleville points, followed by six straight. Garfield made the score a bit more respectable towards the end of the opening match, but after Belleville's dominance, few were expecting much from Garfield in the second game.
But Belleville gave away 10 points on errors in the second match, allowing Garfield to be in control for much of the set. At one point the second game was tied at 16, and Garfield went on a 4-0 run, gaining a little separation and then holding off the Bucs.
Belleville has already had a tremendous season, arguably one of the best in school history, with a trip to the county finals a 20-8 mark and a trip to the state semifinals for the first time. All of this coming in Aiello's first season at the helm.
Up next for the Bucs could be their hardest challenge of the season. They await the winner of top seeded Fairlawn and ninth seeded Vernon. Being that Fairlawn sports a 32-4 record and are the defending state champions, it's likely that Fairlawn will be advancing. If so, the locals will have their work cut out for them on Wednesday May 30. Belleville lost to Fairlawn on May 8, 2-0 (25-11, 25-15).
"I believe if we make no hitting errors and our passing is on point, we can beat them," Rosario said.
"It's not going to be easy, I know they have a very strong program and a great coach, but we did stay with them, when we played them during the season, up to seven [points]" Aiello said. "If we remain confident and play up to our caliber, up to our potential, I know we can stay with them longer and make it a good match."