Richhill Raiders hosted Ulster in the first playoff match in the Celtic cup tonight. Richhill have come off a good run of wins in previous matches, so came into the game with confidence. However, with hitter Mark Hazley out with an ankle injury, the weakened team had a tough game ahead of them, with the youthful Ulster side pushing for success.
Raiders took a slender 2 point lead at the start of the first set, and this remained until the mid way point, were the Raiders block was able to stop the struggling Ulster offense. Libero Lee Taylor played a crucial role in the first set for the Raiders, as his pin point passing allowed Setter Mark Fulton a full choice of attack options. Raiders eventually pressed on in the set, taking a comfortable lead, and closing the set out 25-16.
Raiders were able to carry this form into the second set. A succession of blocks early in the set, mixed in with some unforced errors from Ulster, gave the Raiders a commanding lead. Peter Lundy who has just returned from injury had a solid game, converting many hits into points for the home team. Ulster continued to struggle in this set, and had particular trouble with the Raiders middles, who apart from their excellent blocking, earned the team a lot of points from quick hits. Raiders strolled to victory in this set 25-12.
The third set saw a little more fight from the travelling Ulster side. Ulster outside hitter Nial Madden proved difficult for the raiders to deal with a times, when his strong cross court hit caught the defence out on several occasions. Despite this, Raiders were able to keep their form in this set. Good passing from Stuart Hamilton made life easy for Fulton to set an effective ball, constantly confusing the Ulster block. At 23-14 ahead, Raiders had a slight stutter, when Ulster’s James Kane went to serve. His run of 5 serves gave the away outfit some hope, However, when raiders were to attempt to side out again, a kill through the middle dashed Ulster’s hopes of completing a comeback. Raiders then finished off the set 25-19 and the Game 3-0.
Raiders Captain Mark Fulton said after the game “this was another good win for the team. 3-0 is just what we want to give us confidence for the next game in this new cup”.
Commiserations to the Ulster side and Congratulation to Richhill Raiders from progressing to the next stage of the Celtic cup. Raiders play either Ballymoney Blaze or Lisburn Lynx to decide who will play off in the Celtic cup final against the Scottish opposition.
Thanks to the officials of the game, and to supporters.