DANVERS — Lowell head coach Paul McCarthy scouted out ice cream spots for the trip back home before facing third-seeded St. John’s Prep in a Div. 1 state quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon, just in case the No. 6 Red Raiders finished on the wrong end of it.
Behind its usual dose of powerful depth, plus-defense and strong serving, though, his team had different plans.
Setter Alex Chau (36 assists) set up three different hitters to reach double-digit kills, pacing a two-set lead big enough to help secure the program’s first state semifinal berth with a 3-1 (25-23, 25-12, 15-25, 27-25) win. The Eagles (20-2) fought valiantly as Dan Schorr (31 assists, three kills, two blocks) fed his own team’s balanced attack to nearly rally all the way back, but Mustafa Salih tallied four of his nine blocks in the fourth set to lead a charged defensive recovery and edge out a marathon of a final frame.
Lowell awaits the winner of No. 2 Westford Academy and No. 7 Natick. The ice cream will have to wait.
“We’re not done yet, we’ve got to keep going,” Chau said. “In the third set (SJP) wanted it more, but I think we just wanted it way more than they did. Our enthusiasm was through the roof. … I just love the connection that we have, the trust that we have. That’s all I ask for in sports.”
Seniors exploded early on for Lowell, with Izaviah Hong (14 kills) and Tevin Lout (10 kills) finding a groove in the first set. SJP junior Callum Brown countered with three of his 14 kills down the stretch, but the Salih sealed the frame 25-23 with a block. Sophomore Cody Fitzpatrick stepped into the fold nicely in lieu of missing starter Kythan Ses, using five of his 13 kills in the second frame to blow the doors wide open for a 25-12 win and a 2-0 advantage.
St. John’s Prep stormed right back in the third set, as Matt Ciampa, Colby LaGrassa and Dimitrios Vamvouklis came to life around Schorr to help the Eagles in a dominant 25-15 frame that they never trailed. The home crowd buzzed, and that new life helped SJP string together a 7-0 run late in the fourth set to turn a 21-14 deficit into a tie.
Brown ripped off four kills in that streak, putting the Eagles in a good position to potentially force a fifth set.
The teams traded blows with a series of long volleys that had everyone in the building on the edge of their seat the rest of the way. But after the Eagles built a 25-24 lead on a Ciampa block and a Red Raiders error, Lowell secured the next three points with kills from Hong, Fitzpatrick and Salih’s match-clincher.
“I thought we got a little scared there … but we settled down and finished the job,” McCarthy said. “We adjust, we don’t have just one game-plan, we have many aspects. … I think it’s fantastic for (the seniors).
“I’m numb right now. … We just have a lot of fun.”