When third-seeded Wauwatosa East dropped a 25-15 first game decision to Kettle Moraine on Friday in the quarterfinals of the WIAA boys volleyball state tournament, it left an ominous feeling.
The Lasers were 19-9, the worst record of the eight teams in the tournament, but they were playing with emotion. Lasers coach Tom Gulak was not available, as he left the team to drive up north and be with his mother, who had a stroke.
The Red Raiders, on the other hand, looked flat in the first game. But veteran coach John Simon took control, told his team to relax and play like they have the past month of the season.
Tosa East went out and won 25-18 twice to take a 2-1 lead. But the Lasers bounced back and won the final two games and the match, 25-22 and 15-11.
"The first game we were tight and the second and third game we came back and played like we were playing all year," Simon said. "Even in Game 4, I thought we had them. Then we starting missing serves.
"We just didn't perform as well as we had been performing all season long in Games 4 and 5. It's unfortunate to have that type of performance at the state tournament."
For the second straight year, the Red Raiders have been one and done at the state tournament.
"I wish we would have played better," Simon said. "I thought we had them right where we wanted them when we were up 2-1. 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 we would have played better at the end."
Both Ben Mihelich and Ben Plaisted were excellent all night long, but it was not enough to get the Red Raiders over the top.
Plaisted (25 kills, .378 hitting percentage) and Mihelich (20 kills, 12 digs) were both dominant at times, especially in a stretch in the fourth game when the tandem had kills on seven straight Tosa East points. But the Lasers held on to their lead to take the game. They then jumped out to an 11-5 lead in the fifth game.
KM applied the pressure
Mihelich helped cut the deficit to 12-10 in the final game by winning five of the next six points.
But shortly after, Kettle Moraine's star player, 6-foot-7 inch Adam Martell killed his 20th shot to end the game and the match.
"I thought we could have performed better," Simon said. "They put a lot of pressure on us and served tough.
"We seemed to not put a lot of pressure on them."
Mitch Wagner had 38 assists, Mich Dillon had seven kills, Morgan Griffith had six kills and eight digs and John Murphy had 10 digs.
Martell had 20 kills and 10 digs, Jordan Stellflue, a 6-6 outside hitter, had 18 kills, Michael Orgas had 44 assists and Ben Mayer had 10 digs.
The Red Raiders lose seniors Mihelich, Griffith, Dillon, Murphy and Sam Schulz to graduation.
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