Athol’s Justin Blake shines in 3-0 volleyball win over Commerce

  • Athol’s Justin Blake goes up high for the spike against the High School of Commerce, Tuesday night in Athol. Athol Daily News/Mike Phillips

  • Athol’s Nick Casella looks outward during a set against the High School of Commerce, Tuesday night in Athol. Athol Daily News/Mike Phillips

  • Justin Blake, of Athol, spikes the ball against the High School of Commerce, Tuesday in Athol. Athol Daily News/Mike Phillips

Sports Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

ATHOL — The Athol boys volleyball team got 14 players into Tuesday’s game against the High School of Commerce.

Despite all the mixing and matching of players and rotations, senior Justin Blake shined during Athol’s 3-0.

“We were just doing everything right,” Blake said. “I think a lot of it’s practice and more than that is our mood. It sounds bad, but our mood can sometimes be bad and we play way worse. If our mood is up, we play way up.”

Blake had 16 kills, 10 digs and two aces.

“Lots of good sets from Colby (Soltysik),” Blake said. “Colby’s setting was amazing. Everything was perfect, so I was just getting up there and getting him the assists.”

Soltysik had 27 assists. He has 539 on the year.

“(Justin) is one of our best hitters,” Soltysik said. “Not that I use him whenever I can, but he’s always someone I know that, if I need a reliable hit, I will set it up to him.”

Athol (12-6) won 25-16, 25-20, 25-23.

Athol went up 11-8 in Game 1. A spike by Jordan Carrasquillo started a streak of six straight points for Athol. Athol pushed its lead to 23-12 on an ace by Hudson Carlson. After hitting errors allowed Commerce (1-14) to pull within 24-16, a serve by Jesus Gambas went long and out of bounds to give Athol the win.

A block at the net by Johan Rivera brought Commerce within 3-2 to begin Game 2. An errant serve gave Athol a 4-2 lead. Athol then scored six straight to go up 10-2. On a return that floated into Athol’s court, Blake jumped high and hit a hard spike into Commerce’s court to give his team the 10-2 lead.

“He does a lot of things well,” Athol coach Sean MacDonald said. “He doesn’t have to get kills for us to help in situations when I’m moving people around. Him passing the ball and digging the ball certainly helps.”

After Commerce moved within 10-6, Athol took advantage of multiple errors and a combined block by Blake and Carlson to move ahead 15-6. Commerce moved within 17-10 and then within 18-13, but two aces by Hayden Herk and a spike by Blake moved Athol out front 23-16.

Commerce scored three straight points to move the deficit to 24-20, but a Blake spike went off the hand of Michael Santaliz to give Athol the 25-20 win.

Athol experimented in Game 3, bringing in Holden Girouard, Evan Blake and Luke Inniss at times throughout the set. A serving error and miscommunication in Athol’s court allowed Commerce to take a 4-2 lead. Athol then moved out front 8-6 on an ace by Justin Blake and 10-7 on a Carlson ace.

Commerce scored four straight points on hitting errors to take an 11-10 lead. The teams traded points for most of the match with no lead larger than two. Athol took a 17-15 lead on an errant hit By Xaviel Veras that went out of bounds, but went down 21-19 on an errant hit of its own. Zach Aldrich then tied the set at 21 on an unreturnable hit and then gave his team the lead with an ace.

With the game tied at 22, Athol took a 24-22 lead on another spike by Blake. A return into the net moved the game to 24-23, but an unreturnable hit by Blake gave Athol the victory.

“That was a good team effort,” MacDonald said.

Athol will face Chicopee Wednesday at 6 p.m. and then will host senior night on Friday at 5 p.m. against West Springfield High School

“It’s nice to not have to drive anywhere,” MacDonald said. “It’s going to be fun.”

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