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BULLDOGS HEADED BACK TO THE FINALS

Okkodo is headed back to the boys volleyball finals after the Bulldogs defeated the JFK Islanders in the semifinals Tuesday evening at the Bulldog home. They will face the GW Geckos in the finals at the FD Phoenix Center Thursday.

By Mike Nauta Jr.

Playoff action in the IIAAG High School Boys Volleyball League resumed action on Tuesday night with the final four teams battling for one of two spots in the championship game. Over at Okkodo High School, the top-seeded Bulldogs played host to the visiting John F. Kennedy Islanders.

The Islanders entered the match hoping to upset their opponents and move on to the finals. However, the Bulldogs proved why they are the defending champs and undefeated this season as they only needed three sets (25-18, 25-17, 25-21) to defeat JFK and punch their return ticket to the title game.

“We got off to a slow start, but we just calmed our nerves and got right back to playing Bulldogs volleyball,” said Okkodo’s Gary Aromin. “The Islanders played well and they had some big moments in the game that could have swung momentum. We just had to fight back with timely execution on our attack.”

Bulldogs Brian Crowe and Gary Aromin get up on a block against the JFK Islanders. (photo by Richard Camacho IV)

Bulldogs Brian Crowe and Gary Aromin get up on a block against the JFK Islanders. (photo by Richard Camacho IV)

Despite a game-opening kill by Okkodo’s Ian Ilagas, it was the Islanders who jumped out to a quick 5-3 courtesy of a Billy Belger kill and four unforced errors by the Bulldogs. The see-saw game continued as both teams knotted the score four more times before Okkodo took over. With the scoreboard showing 11-11, the Bulldogs trio of Aiden Ferrara, Ilagas, and Rai Santos led a surge that eventually gave their team a commanding 21-13 lead late in the set.

The huge deficit didn’t deter the Islanders from putting up a fight. Led by the defensive plays of Chino Cruz, the Islanders narrowed the gap scoring four unanswered points making it a 21-17 game and forcing Okkodo coach Dohn So to call a timeout. After returning to the floor, a JFK error followed by kills from Ferrara put the Bulldogs at set point. The Islanders added one more point before Ilagas closed out with a kill.

In the second set, the Bulldogs came out firing and looking like the team their fans knew. Aggressive attacking by Brian Crowe and Ferrara led Okkodo to an early 6-1 lead. Despite the good fight that the Islanders put up, the Bulldogs would never look back.

Bulldog Aiden Ferrara digs a ball on the defensive end. (photo by Richard Camacho IV)

Bulldog Aiden Ferrara digs a ball on the defensive end. (photo by Richard Camacho IV)

Down 17-10 late in the set, the Islanders made things a bit interesting after scoring four straight points thanks to the heads up play by their middle man Chris Conner. Not able to keep up the momentum, the Islanders payed dearly as Okkodo went on an 8-3 run to go up two sets in a best of five game.

“We maintained our focus and composure even when the Islanders created big rallies,” said Aromin. “Limiting our errors played a big deal in the second set.”

JFK looked poised to extend the game into a fourth set after coming out strong in the third. Keeping it close almost the entire way, the Islanders fought effortlessly. Down 16-13 late in the set, kills by Wayne Jesus and a block by Cruz allowed the Islanders to equalized the game.

On the next two plays Okkodo’s Aromin gave his team a one-point lead that was short-lived as Belger responded with a monster kill from the back line. For the remainder of the set, any hopes of an Islanders comeback was crushed as the Bulldogs refused to let up and secured the “W” to include the game winning kill by Crowe.

“We are happy to be returning to the championship where we will defend our title,” said Aromin. “However, we know that we have to prepare because regardless of who our opponent is it’ll be a lot of hard work needed.”

The Bulldogs will take on the GW Geckos on Thursday night at 7 pm for the right to hoist the championship trophy. Meanwhile, the Islanders will battle the Harvest Eagles in the consolation game scheduled before the championship game.

Other Semifinal

GW def. Harvest 22-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-12

PHOTO GALLERY:

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Bulldogs setter Rai Santos gets in on a pass to his teammates. (photo by Richard Camacho IV)

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