Five-set thriller between the Gators and Rebels
By CHRIS BROOKS, sports editor, wellsvillesports.com
CUBA — It all came down to Wednesday night. The final game of the regular season. Two rivals separated by a trip down Interstate-86 met at one place and at one time for the third and final time. The penultimate chapter was for everything the County has to offer.
Allegany-Limestone and Cuba-Rushford. One of the Southern Tier’s ultimate rivalries.
The Wighthouse was packed to the brim to witness one epic finale to close out the 2022-23 boys volleyball campaign. What better way to close it out, than for the battle to go all the way down to the wire in a five-set thriller.
To say that the Gators and Rebels provided a true back-and-forth exchanging of pleasantries across all five sets of action, would be as massive of an understatement as ever.
It was anyone’s game, and it would come down to who wanted the championship more between the two foes. Through the opening two sets, the visitors in green were at the top of their game, providing a dominant start and then a resilient finish to push Cuba-Rushford to the brink.
Then what happened next, would become the premier moment of the season.
The Rebels doubled down, and received quite the return — their third championship in the last four years.
It was not easy by any means, but Cuba-Rushford warded off Allegany-Limestone’s chances to complete a match sweep in the third set, as they used it for themselves as an energy booster, carrying it forward to force a fifth and final set where the action was as close quarters as you can possibly imagine.
It began with an Allen Fuller serve to Allegany-Limestone on what was a chance to lock away the win in extra serves during the fifth set. It would end with an attempted return back to Cuba-Rushford hitting directly into the net to give the Rebels the final point they needed, the final point to send the bench and crowd into a complete frenzy, as they pulled off the incredible comeback of the season to win it all for the third time in the last four years in a 14-25, 20-25, 25-16, 25-23, 19-17 thrilling triumph.
“The way we dealt with adversity at the end of the year, this is exactly how I want them to approach life. It’s a great life lesson for this group. This is as good as it gets,” said Rebels coach Nick Perillo. “I think we definitely had some ups and downs, despite finishing 13-1 in the regular season. Today early in the match, we saw a lot of downs. But that turning point, instead of beating ourselves up, we finally found a way to dig in starting in the third set, and we fought tooth and nail to climb back in it.”
The back-and-forth pace was instilled right from the get-go for both teams, with Allegany-Limestone laying claim to the first two sets of the night. In the opener, the Gators would pick up on a 10-9 lead by finding an opening against Cuba-Rushford (16-1) to exploit. They went on to do just that with an 8-2 mid-set run to push their lead out insurmountably before the Rebels even garnered a chance to chip away late in the set, to take a 1-0 advantage.
The Rebels would work their way out into the lead in the early stages of the second set, battling back-and-forth with Allegany-Limestone again before another late opening for the Gators was created and exploited with a comeback win of their own, scoring nine of the last 11 points after a narrow 18-16 deficit to officially push Cuba-Rushford to the brink entering the third set.
The hosts would go on to play like their lives depended on the moment, as they traded barbs with the Gators once more to navigate the battle towards a 14-14 tie in the mid-set stages. From that point, the hosts in blue put together two separate strands of 5-0 mini-runs to give the Rebels their first win of the game on the board behind nine of the set’s last 11 points altogether.
Another even exchange of points was totaled by both teams, but the Rebels found a way to garner one more benefit with a narrow 25-23 win off a Gators deflection off a Rebels serve that went out of bounds to seal up a date to the game-ending fifth set.
Just like the pace had been set to all night long, it was no different one last time in the fifth and final set. No lead ever grew bigger than four at one point, but with the game collecting multiple ties within the homestretch, the Rebels would have to act quickly to provide a big response.
The Rebels would go on to earn the narrow lead to set up a chance to win the ultimate battle from behind, all laying on the hands of Allen Fuller from the back line. Fuller sent it up into the air, and dished it over to Allegany-Limestone. With it, the Gators attempted to provide a hit back on it, but it would sail directly into the net to give the Rebels that one singular point they needed to reclaim gold once again within the County’s boys volleyball arena.
Fuller would lead the Cuba-Rushford attack on special teams, handing out a whopping 27 assists to pair with three aces and a kill. On offense, it was all Maddox Keller, as he earned MVP honors from his squad behind a massive 17-kill night, pairing them with four aces and three blocks, while Preston Bilotta furthered the offensive cause with five kills and five more blocks.
Allegany-Limestone was led by AJ Riordan on offense, recording 10 kills and five blocks. Andrew Forrest chipped in with 12 digs to keep the ball off the floor, coupling them with five kills of his own.
The 2022-23 Allegany County Boys Volleyball campaign is officially history, as the Rebels put a bow on back-to-back titles with a record of 16-1 overall.
“This Senior class is so special. Preston, it’s only his first year but what a great addition he has been to our team,” Perillo reflected. “Maddox, along with our core guys in Allen, Max Hinckley and Haven Kellogg. Those guys know how to do such an amazing job, especially on a night like tonight where everything matters. It was awesome to see this win close out their careers. It’s almost storybook. They worked so hard for this, and they deserve every bit of it.”
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