On Wednesday night Ballymoney Blaze hosted Richhill Raiders. Raiders came into the match as favourites having won their opening match of the 7 Financial National League 3-0 and were the only team to beat Blaze in the 1st half of the season. Blaze on the other hand were looking to get their new league campaign kick started after losing their first 2 matches.
Blaze had a shaky start to the match and looked every bit a team that had only picked up 1 set in their first 2 matches. With Blaze lacking in confidence it didn’t take long for Richhill to get into their stride, with good serving from Mark Hazley giving them an early 3-6 lead. Stevie Wilson continued Richhill’s good serving and brought the score to 5-11. A timeout from Blaze at 11-20 down couldn’t prevent a rampant Richhill running away with the first set, final score 14-25 to Richhill.
Blaze regrouped and came out knowing they’d have to play a lot better to have any chance against this Richhill side. This set was slightly closer but Richhill were always 2-3 points ahead throughout. Richhill’s setter Mark Fulton varied the attack well scoring a couple of points himself and leaving his hitters up against only 1 block at times. Good jump serving and back court hitting from Wilson Greenlee found court and made sure Richhill took the set 19-25.
The 3rd set started out much like the 2nd with both teams trading points. Mid way through the set a couple of blocks from Alan McKnight and Jonathan Workman gave Blaze some momentum. Blaze’s passing improved and that allowed middles Richard Surgenor and Matt Scott to get more into the game. Richhill called a time out as Blaze got a couple of points ahead, but good serving from Adam Hunter and Callum Currie maintained Blaze’s fight back and they took the set 25-21.
The match was interesting poised with Richhill still only needing a set to take the match, but with Blaze growing in confidence with every point they won. Blaze’s mentality was to focus on every point and make it count; they got off to a good start with accurate hitting from opposite Callum Currie and great defence from libero Kelvin Ko. Richhill kept the scores tight with good serving from Stuart Hamilton, but Blaze were able to convert more attacks to points and just edged the set 25-20.
The final set was only to 15 and could’ve gone either way. Both teams were tired, momentum was just about with Blaze but Richhill came out determined not to go home with a defeat after winning the first 2 sets. Teams traded the first couple of points, then Richard Surgenor stepped up to serve, with 2 aces in a row he made it difficult for the Richhill defence. Blaze didn’t give up this lead and kept their heads to complete the comeback, winning the set 15-12 and the match 3-2.
After the match player/coach Alan McKnight said ‘This was a great team performance and a much needed win! It was great to have some energy on court and this was largely down to our libero Kelvin Ko in the later sets bouncing around on the court’
Big thank you to Caroline and Kerry for refereeing, the scorers and supporters.