NEEDHAM – The best teams always have a few players that can pick up the slack whenever the focus shifts away from the typical stars on a given night. And as No. 1 Needham saw its set streak nearly come to an end as it filtered through the end of its bench Tuesday afternoon against a scrappy No. 12 Brookline, that depth flexed its muscles on the way to yet another sweep.
Just a few days after Kevin Coppinger took center stage against Westfield on Saturday, Ethan McCarron was the big hitter alongside Ben Putnam and Nolan Leary with a game-high 12 kills to guide the Rockets to a 3-0 (25-15, 25-13, 25-23) Bay State Conference win over the Warriors.
Brookline (6-5) used its grit to challenge until the end, but Needham (13-0) used all of its weapons to push its set streak to 105 straight amid a 35-match win streak.
Leary (eight kills, two blocks, ace) and Putnam (seven kills, ace) afflicted their normal damage with the playing time they got, but the ability for McCarron, Henry Dirks (five kills), Coppinger (two kills) and Brian Cloonan (two kills) to produce around Raymond Weng (30 assists, two kills, two blocks) as the going got tough against a fellow top Div. 1 team in the third set stood out to head coach Dave Powell.
“There’s a lot of kids in this program who can play, we have a lot of depth,” he said. “I was glad that guys got an opportunity to compete under some pressure. Both who are starters and non-starters. We’re in there together, it’s good for both sets of kids.”
After competitive starts turned into big runs and blowout wins in the first two sets against a Brookline team playing without its full arsenal of top players, Powell started to rotate in some players that don’t normally get as much time. Putnam and Coppinger didn’t get a ton of looks, but they didn’t end up needing to.
As Jacob Smagula, Nikhil Wong (15 assists, three kills) and Jason Rich (six kills) powered the Warriors the majority of the way before errors derailed the first two sets, it was their play and Cam Jilek’s emergence that pushed Needham to the edge in the third set. A 6-0 run in the middle of the frame and a 4-2 run toward the end of it led to the most complete, competitive set the afternoon offered.
But with a 22-20 lead, McCarron and Leary made sure the job got done after everyone contributed. In the end, it marked another season sweep over a signature league foe.
“Brookline is scrappy, they play good defense,” Powell said. “It’s good (to sweep them). I wish we played a little better, but it’s good to get a win.”