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The Pirates Come From Behind to Defeat Middle Tennessee, 3-2

Go Tigers! Head Coach Julie Torbett
Go Tigers!
Head Coach Julie Torbett
Go Tigers!

Nov. 3, 2013

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GREENVILLE, N.C. –Down two sets to none, the East Carolina volleyball team fought back and rattled off three straight set wins to hold off Middle Tennessee, 3-2 [19-25, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19, 15-13], at Minges Coliseum on Sunday afternoon. The Pirates recorded a number of career-highs in a triumph that marked head coach Julie Torbett’s 350th career victory.

“That was a big win for us,” Torbett said. “The nice thing about volleyball is that you erase the score after each set. So if you do lose a set, you’re still in the match. I’ve been talking to the team about that. Don’t let (one set loss) determine the rest of the match. Even if it’s not a good score, we get to start back at zero. We’ve been working on that. I just think it was a different mindset today. We didn’t have anything to lose. So when you think that way, you don’t get rattled as easily.”

East Carolina (12-16, 3-8 C-USA) was led by Nicole Willis’ match-high 21 kills which was just one shy of her season-best. She also added five total blocks and two digs while hitting .273. Freshman Bella Borgiotti set the offensive tone for the Pirates as she notched a career-high 35 assists and 11 digs for her third double-double of the year. She also posted three total blocks to tie her career-high. Junior setter Zarah Cecich helped Borgiotti control the offense with 22 assists while adding eight digs in the contest. Senior outside hitter Whitney Campbell gave the ECU offense a boost as she knocked down a career-best 16 kills to go along with 13 digs for her fifth double-double of the season.

The Pirates held Middle Tennessee (14-10, 6-4 C-USA) to just .161 hitting as senior libero Shelby Beasley paced the ECU defense with 20 digs. Middle hitters Virginia Fitch and Kierra Lee-Dunson held their own at the net as the duo posted 13 total blocks with Fitch tying her season-high with seven and Lee-Dunson adding six. Lee-Dunson also added a career-best 12 kills, while hitting a team-high .550.

The ECU defense finished the contest with a total of 62 digs and 15.0 total team blocks. In the final three sets, the Pirates limited the Blue Raiders to a .156 attack percentage. In the fourth set, Middle Tennessee was held to a mere .061 hitting percentage.

“I thought our defensive game was excellent at the net and in the back row,” Torbett said. “That helped open up the offense. When you don’t have (a solid defensive performance), it’s really hard to get anything going.”

With the defense holding steady, the Pirates’ offense surged as ECU hit .333 in the third frame and knocked down 17 kills with just six miscues. East Carolina posted 63 kills and 61 assists while hitting .208 in the match.

After dropping the first two sets by scores of 25-19 and 25-21, the Pirates turned things around in the third frame. ECU battled Middle Tennessee early in the game, but took a 12-11 lead on a kill from Willis and never looked back. The kill sparked a 5-0 run that put the hosts up 16-11. After a pair of Blue Raider timeouts, the Pirates put the game away 25-18 on a kill from Torre Blake.

“I changed the lineup (in the third set),” Torbett explained. “We ran a lineup that we really haven’t been practicing that much, because I wanted Torre Blake on the court too. She’s a game player and she makes a difference when she’s out there. But Nicole (Willis) and Whitney (Campbell) were playing pretty well, so I just put (Blake) in on the right side and she came in and it definitely sparked us and made a difference. I wasn’t going to go down without swinging, so we tried some different things and a lot of players got to play today.”

Middle Tennessee took 7-2 lead in the fourth set, and it looked like the Pirates’ chances were over, when ECU went on a 4-0 run to pull within two (8-6). With the game back in reach, East Carolina fought back and tied the set at 9-all on a kill by Lee-Dunson followed by a Blue Raider attack error. The two teams battled each other over the next few points fighting through five ties. With the score knotted at 15-15, the Pirates went on a 6-1 run to take a 21-16 advantage and went on to win the set, 25-19, forcing a fifth and deciding set.

The Pirates came out in the fifth set determined to earn the win as they took an early 4-1 lead. Middle Tennessee gave its best effort to come back and managed to pull within one (14-13), but East Carolina put the set away 15-13 en route to winning its 12th match of the year and Torbett’s 350th of her career.

“It’s exciting that (my 350th career win) happened against a very good team,” Torbett said. “Middle Tennessee is a very good team, and for the girls to have a victory that they can all be really excited and happy about is great. I’m so glad that I get to share my 350th win with them. I haven’t won a single volleyball match, my players have.”

East Carolina returns to action on Tuesday, November 5, in a non-conference match at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C. First serve is set for 7 p.m. Live stats will be available on ECUPirates.com.