Pirates win thriller in four sets over South Florida

ECU Pirates

Aaliyah Griffin (ECU Sports Information photo)

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TAMPA, Fla. – East Carolina earned a split of its opening weekend of American Athletic Conference play Sunday via a 3-1 (28-26, 25-21, 25-27, 32-30) victory over South Florida before a lively crowd at The Corral.

The Pirates (5-6, 1-1 AAC) avenged a pair of spring losses to the Bulls (6-7, 0-2 AAC) and won for the third time in their last four trips to Tampa.

Sunday’s affair was the first time all season East Carolina has played past the third set as three of the four frames went into volleyball’s version of overtime.

ECU piled up a season-high 13 total blocks. Included in that total was a career-best eight (two solo) out of freshman middle blocker Aaliyah Griffin. Classmate and middle blocker Amelia Davis also chipped in with five stuffs of her own.

Senior right side Bri Wood led all players with 19 kills to go along with a .364 hitting percentage and nine digs. Senior outside hitter Natalie Tyson tallied a double-double of 14 kills and 16 digs while senior setter Janiece Jefferies notched a double-double herself to the tune of 21 assists and 10 digs. Freshman libero Tia Shum paced the back row with 20 digs. Marta Cvitkovic led USF offensively with 20 kills and a .277 hitting percentage.

Thanks in large part to its blocking prowess, East Carolina out-hit the home side .204 to .188 while also winning the defensive battle – racking up 71 digs to the Bulls’ 63. The teams combined for 12 aces as Griffin topped all players with three.

The Pirates used an early timeout trailing 10-6 in the opening set following a solo block by Amiree Hendricks-Walker. South Florida led by as much as 16-11, but a quick 3-0 spurt by ECU forced the home team to utilize its first timeout. The Bulls kept in front as the stanza wore on, taking a 21-19 advantage with a kill. However, a 3-0 run capped by a Davis and Tyson rejection, propelled the Purple and Gold ahead by one.

Tyson later afforded East Carolina set point with an ace, making the score 24-22, but USF answered with two straight to tie things up. The teams traded the lead back and forth entering extra points before a service error and block by Griffin and freshman right side Sophia Kruczko sealed the victory for the Pirates.

ECU built a 14-10 cushion in the second set thanks to a kill by Davis. South Florida then used a nice serving run out of Cvitkovic to race ahead 17-14. Unfazed, the Pirates pushed back with eight-straight points to seize control at 23-18. That would be enough for East Carolina to win the frame by four and grab a 2-0 match lead at the intermission.

A topsy-turvy third stanza settled late with a Kruczko-Griffin block giving the Pirates match point at 24-23. The Bulls fought it off, stealing four of the final six rallies to extend the match.

It was all ECU early in the fourth when a Cvitkovic attacking error made the score 10-5 in favor of the Pirates. South Florida was able to forge a 10-10 deadlock, but the Pirates steadied themselves and went in front 18-12 following a kill by Davis. East Carolina looked to be in control up 23-16 late. However, the Bulls made one last huge push. With ECU at match point, 24-21, USF scored three quick ones to tie the score. An all-out sprint ensued from there as the Pirates were able to take advantage of a handful of serving errors and a final attacking miscue to finally vanquish their opponent in extra points.

Up Next: East Carolina opens a four-match homestand beginning Friday evening against American Athletic Conference opponent SMU. First serve inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum is set for 6 p.m. The contest will be streamed live via the ESPN+ service.

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