Pirates rally but South Florida hangs on for five-set victory

ECU Pirates

GREENVILLE, N.C. – East Carolina nearly pulled the reverse sweep after falling down two sets to none against South Florida Friday afternoon, but the Bulls limited the Pirates to a .000 hitting percentage in the deciding frame to record a 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 22-25, 18-25, 15-6) American Athletic Conference victory inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

ECU (1-4, 0-4 AAC) fell just short in an attempt to split the two-match set with USF (5-3, 3-1 AAC) and will vie for its first league win in a couple weeks at UCF.

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Senior right side Bri Wood picked up her fifth double-double of the season, notching 20 kills to go along with 14 digs, while junior setter Janiece Jefferies procured the first double-double of her career to the tune of 24 assists and 16 digs. Senior outside Sydney Kleinman was the third Pirate to grab a double-double, finishing the match with 13 kills and 20 digs. Additionally, senior libero Camryn Allen tied for the squad high in digs with Kleinman at 20.

Marta Cvitkovic paced all players with 24 kills while the Bulls received double-double performances from both of their setters in Maria Idjolov (33 assists/10 digs) and Eke Denessen (19 assists/15 digs). CC Clausen collected a match-best 37 digs.

The sides ended up with similar offensive efficiencies as South Florida out-hit East Carolina .189-.188, but the visitors recorded 66 kills to the home team’s 59 while also winning the defensive battle in the dig column, 97-91.

The Pirates were forced into utilizing an early timeout in the first set when Cvitkovic put down a kill to give her team an 11-6 edge. ECU responded by scoring 10 of the next 16 points to slice the deficit to just one as a big block by Natalie Tyson and S’mara Riley sent the Bulls scrambling for their second timeout of the stanza. South Florida looked to pull away a few rallies later, leading 22-18, but another block – this time by Kleinman and Sydney Hall – capped a quick 3-0 run that kept East Carolina within one. The Pirates could not quite complete the comeback and fell by a deuce after an attack error sealed it for the Bulls.

ECU faced another early deficit in the second set and used a timeout trailing 10-5. Allen produced an ace later in the frame which reduced the South Florida lead to 15-14, but a 5-1 run by the Bulls put the score at 20-15. Facing set point and behind 24-21, a service error and a kill by Wood extended things before Cvitkovic managed a kill to give USF another two-point victory.

The teams played to a deadlock at 10 apiece in the third before East Carolina captured four of the next five rallies to push ahead 14-11 and force a South Florida timeout. A kill by Tyson and a ball-handling error called on Denessen saw the Pirates creep in front 20-16. Following a USF timeout, the Bulls were able to slice the ECU advantage to 21-20. Unfazed, the Purple and Gold dug down and scored the four points it needed to win the frame and stretch the match to a fourth set.

East Carolina put together a dominant start to the fourth stanza, taking advantage of a few offensive mistakes by South Florida to jump out to an 8-3 cushion. An attack error off the swing of Jac St. Cin afforded the Pirates a 16-11 lead and the Bulls called for time to regroup. It wouldn’t matter as USF did not threaten again down the stretch.

It was not an ideal start to the tiebreaker as far as ECU was concerned as South Florida notched four kills in the first six points. Following an attack error by the Pirates, head coach Adler Augustin called for time. Unfortunately, the Bulls kept the pressure on and pulled away quickly to complete the win and the series sweep.

Up Next: East Carolina returns to the court Feb. 28 when it welcomes North Carolina to Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum for a non-conference bout.

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