Lasers rally around coach to win state quarterfinal
For being such a small appendage, the pinky finger can wield its share of pain if damaged. Adam Martell shrugged it right off.
The Kettle Moraine senior leader dislocated the digit in a crucial fourth set against Wauwatosa East in the WIAA boys volleyball state quarterfinal. But he was on the floor when the Lasers rallied for wins in the final two sets, throwing down the game-winning kill in a 25-15, 18-25, 18-25, 25-22, 15-11 thriller at Wisconsin Lutheran College in Wauwatosa.
"Being the pinky finger, (it didn't really concern me)," said Martell, who finished with 20 kills and a .325 attack percentage. "It hindered me a little bit. It's not the swinging or setting or anything, it's the block again. Last time I did it (on the left thumb), I went right back up and hit the same exact thumb."
Martell busted his finger on a block that fell and gave the Lasers an 11-8 lead. Martell missed two points -- KM won them both -- and checked back in after a timeout, registering five more kills the rest of the match.
"It was mangled," assistant coach Sean Curley said. "He didn't even want to take the point off. He wanted the trainer, wanted it popped and wanted to get right back in there."
Curley was filling in for Lasers head coach Tom Gulak, who left the team to be with his ailing mother. Rallying around their coach, the Lasers came out on fire in the 25-15 first-set drubbing, but the Lasers' passing abandoned them in the next two sets.
Tosa East, behind its dynamic duo of Ben Plaisted (25 kills, .378 hitting percentage) and Ben Mihelich (12 digs, 20 kills, .273), wasn't exactly making things easy, either.
"After the first set, we thought we were just going to come out and take it, and they stepped their game up, which of course they're going to do at state," said junior Mitchell Oleson, who landed six of nine kills for KM. "Our passing improved so much."
Senior Jordan Stellflue, who continued a stellar run of play, landed five kills and an ace in the first stretch of the fourth set, leading to that 13-8 lead.
"Jordan Stellflue is having a coming out party this past month," Curley said. "He's been unstoppable. Adam's been doing this all year. We get a little bit better passing, we're a very scary team, but it wasn't there today."
It was unclear if Martell would be back at that point, but with his right pinky taped to his ring finger, there he was.
"When Adam went out, we looked to the bench," Oleson said. "We hadn't had a loss (to injury) all year, we've been healthy the whole year. We were hoping he could get back in because he's easily our star player out there. Luckily, he was all right."
Plaisted landed five straight kills for Tosa East as the teams went back and forth over the home stretch of points, but the Lasers never surrendered the lead.
"Even in game four I thought we had them," Wauwatosa East coach John Simon said. "Then we starting missing serves, we just didn't perform as well as we had been performing all season long in games four and games give. It's unfortunate to have that type of performance at the state tournament."
In the fifth, the Lasers grabbed an 11-5 lead before the Red Raiders went on a run and pulled back within 12-10. But a kill from Sean Leahy, an attack error and Martell's attack into the block out of bounds gave the Lasers a berth in the noon semifinal against Burlington at noon Saturday.
"The whole game is dedicated to coach and his mom," Martell said. "We got an email last night saying he wasn't going to be there. We had to rally together."
Said Curley, "I think I was more stressed out once I got the news than the other guys. These guys are solid. We were down 2-1 and it was a lopsided 2-1 too. In those second and third games, they crushed us. We had a lot of errors. But we stuck in there, stayed focused and started nailing our passes and had a lot of good swings."
Junior setter Michael Orgas finished with 44 assists, and Martell and Ben Mayer each added 10 digs.
John Murphy added 10 digs for Wauwatosa East, which entered the battle with the No. 3 seed. Each of the other seeded teams in the new state-tournament format advanced.
Mitch Wagner finished with 38 assists for Tosa East.
"I thought we had them right where we wanted them when we were up 2-1," Simon said. "We just couldn't close out. We couldn't put them away when we had the chance to. We let them hang around, hang around; they got on a roll at the end. We really didn't have an answer for a lot of their stuff. I wish they would have played better at the end."
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