Watch Sunday's St. John's Match LIVE!
CINCINNATI---Stephanie Niemer had a career-high 21 kills, pacing four Cincinnati players in double figures as the Bearcats racked up their seventh straight win, a four-game decision over Connecticut on Friday night in Fifth Third Arena. The 30-17, 30-14, 27-30, 30-28 victory gives Cincinnati a one-half game lead in the BIG EAST standings heading into Saturday league play. UC is 14-4 overall, 5-0 in the BIG EAST.
The Bearcats cruised through the first two frames, outhitting the Huskies (11-6, 2-3 BIG EAST) by a .385 to .014 margin. The break seemed to energize UConn as it battled for a game three win and nearly picked off game four as well.
Jessica Elley had her second straight highly productive match, finishing with a season-high 17 kills, along with 13 digs, four blocks and two aces. Jessie Nevitt tacked on 14 kills and five blocks, while Lindsay Upton had 10 kills and a career-high six blocks. On top of her kill count, Niemer had career-highs of five aces and four blocks.
"Tonight was an example of our youth showing," UC head coach Reed Sunahara said. "I thought we did a good job down the stretch and I was happy we came back in game four. It could have gone either way, but we made plays when it counted."
The Bearcats got the home fans on their feet in game one, dominating the Huskies with a 13-0 run that turned a two-point cushion into a 23-8 runaway. Elley came up with three kills during the stretch, while Jenny Custer and Upton added two apiece. Cincinnati built a lead of as much as 14 and Niemer's fourth kill of the game sealed the deal. UC was dominating holding a .393 to .000 edge in hitting.
Cincinnati started game two where it left off in the opener, taking a 9-4 lead into Connecticut's first timeout of the frame. UC doubled up UConn on an Elley kill to make it 18-9, before really turning it on late in the going. After a Bearcat service error made it 20-13, UC closed game two on a 10-1 run, with Niemer, Elley and Custer providing two kills each. Just like in the first game, Niemer was on the service line for much of the run as she served the last five points of the game. The freshman put an exclamation point on the run with an ace that capped off the 30-14 triumph. The hitting dominance was still there for UC, this time to the tune of .378 to .023.
Both squads looked like different teams in a disappointing game three for the Bearcats. Three straight UC errors caused an early stoppage by Sunahara with his team down 10-8. Cincinnati would climb back on top with a 7-3 spurt that forced a UConn timeout at 16-14 Bearcats. The game of runs continued with Connecticut later scoring seven of nine points for a 23-20 advantage. A block by Rebecca Murray and Bridget Denson-Dorman gave the visitors a 27-22 lead, but UC came back with three straight to climb within two. The Bearcats were still down two when Connecticut reached game point at 29-27 and a block by Murray and Lauren Lamberti set up game four.
Game four was another nail biter with the final tally showing 11 tie scores and four lead changes. The teams battled through many of those ties in the middle stages until Upton and Elley combined on a block to make it 21-18 in favor of the home team. Out of a timeout, UC scored four of the next five to jump in front by a comfortable 25-19 margin. But Connecticut had lots of fight left in its tank, even after Nevitt knocked down a kill to give UC match point at 29-25. Two Cincinnati errors and a kill by Kate Seabuagh kept the visitors hopes alive until Annie Fesl fed Upton for the latter's 10th kill of the night to finish off the Huskies.
On Dig for the Cure Night at Fifth Third Arena, the Bearcats totaled 73 as a team, including a match-best 20 by libero Jaime Frey. Fesl matched her career-high with 13 on top of her 58 assists from the setter position. UC finished with 12.5 team blocks, marking their third-highest count of the year.
Connecticut got 13 kills from Lamberti and 10 from Chauntay Mickens. Murray led all players with seven blocks, while Erlanger, Ky. native Jessica Isaac had 18 digs.
Cincinnati will now get ready for quite possibly its biggest match of the year to date, a showdown with No. 18 St. John's on Sunday at 2 p.m. The Red Storm entered the weekend in a three-way tie for BIG EAST supremacy, but something will have to give when they battle Louisville on Saturday afternoon.