Stephen Adams slammed a water bottle to the floor. Ayrton Bayer sat on the bench with both hands on his head.
Adams, a Southern Regional senior middle blocker, and Bayer, the Rams’ senior right side, did not take their team’s 2-1 loss to Fair Lawn on Thursday in the state championship boys volleyball match of the NJSIAA Tournament kindly.
“It stinks to lose,” Adams said. “To come this far. … It really does stink. It’s horrible. To come up short. … This stinks.”
“It hurts man, it hurts,” Bayer said. “This will hurt for a long time. This really hurts. This really hurts. I am very frustrated. I gave it my shot.”
“All losses are tough,” said Eric Maxwell, Southern’s 13th-year coach and the founder of the program.
This loss might have been the toughest in program history.
The Rams lost the first game, 25-23, after leading by as many as six points. Southern took the second game, 25-13, and lost the third, 25-22, at South Brunswick High Schoool.
Southern (39-2) beat the Cutters (37-4) of Bergen County in two matches earlier this season. The Cutters downed Southern last year to win the state championship match.
“Losing is never easy,” said Maxwell, whose Rams are 32-9 all-time in NJSIAA play. “One thing I said to our boys was, ‘When you are a program that puts it on the line, there is reward and risk. There are an awful lot of programs that don’t put it on the line. You have to take the good with the bad. If you don’t win it all, it ends in big disappointment.’
“From Day One, we talk about getting to the state final and winning the state title. That’s what teams should shoot for.”
The Cutters scored the winning point in the third game when junior outside hitter Chris Nugent dinked the ball into an opening for a clean winner.
“Our comeback was huge,” he said. “We passed well and served well. We did everything right. Energy was the key. We were able to play great.”
Southern, which won the title in 2009 and 2010, cut its deficit to 24-22 when sophomore middle blocker Mike Gesicki and Bayer teamed for a block before Nugent went to work.
“We did not get a sideout in the third game,” Maxwell said. “Their blocking changed the momentum. They blocked better than we did. We failed to put it away.”
In the first game, the Rams took a 23-17 lead when Bayer capped a 10-3 run with a kill. The Cutters closed the game with an 8-0 run for the win.
“You can’t give a team which is that good a game,” Maxwell said. “We outplayed them by 85 to 90 percent in the first game. They stole the first game. I feel we should have won the first game.”
“We did not close out the first game,” Gesicki said, “and that just really killed us. We had them in the grasp of our hands and let it slip. This is really tough. Last year, they were the better team. This leaves a sting.”
In the second game, Southern’s lead mushroomed to as many as 13, 22-9, on a kill by senior outside hitter Joe Niccoli.
“We never lost our confidence,” Fair Lawn coach Peter Zisa said after the Cutters won their third title in history. “We had the mental toughness to come back and win it.”
Maxwell said Southern will again be among the elite next season.
“We will be back,” he said. “We are loaded with talent in our program.”
Fair Lawn 2, Southern 1
GAME SCORES: Fair Lawn 25-23, 13-25, 25-22; HIGHLIGHTS: (FL) Nugent 20 kills, Sibilio 4 kills, Amos 4 kills, Colomier 4 kills, Small 31 assists; (SR) Gesicki 7 kills, 4 blocks; Niccoli 6 kills, 8 digs; Wilk 6 kills, 8 digs; King 22 assists, Annarumma 15 digs, Bayer 4 blocks, 5 kills; RECORDS: Fair Lawn (37-4), Southern (39-2)