CHESHIRE -- The Staples High girls volleyball team saw far too many serves from Cheshire's Rebecca Ligi and Lisa Walle go unreturned for far too long on Tuesday evening.

The Rams' two outside hitters took control from the service line and helped spur long runs to close out the third and fourth games as No. 2 Cheshire topped the 10th-ranked Wreckers 3-1 (18-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-16) in the Class LL state quarterfinals.

"Offensively, I think we can keep up with them for sure. Defensively too, I think we played a nice game. It was our serve receive that really hurt us tonight," Staples head coach Jon Shepro said.

Tied 17-17 in the third game, Cheshire scored eight straight points and clinched a 25-17 win--and a pivotal 2-1 lead--on an ace by Ligi.

The Rams (21-1) started out slow in the fourth game, falling behind 4-0 to Staples before rallying to tie it at 5-5. The Wreckers regained the lead 16-13, but with Walle dominating from the service line, the Rams reeled off 12 straight points to close it out 25-16.

Walle had six aces--five in the final game--and recorded nine kills and six digs as Cheshire advanced to the semifinals to take on No. 3 Fairfield Ludlowe, the FCIAC co-champions, on Thursday at Foran High School in Milford.

"We really served well tonight. We really didn't miss a lot of serves," Cheshire head coach Sue Bavone said. "We kind of pressured them with our serves and kept them at work. Once I saw that they were having some difficulties passing deep balls, I felt a little more comfortable."

Staples (15-6) got off to a strong start and led by as many as 10 points in the first game, 20-10, before winning 25-18.

"We were passing much better in the first game. We were able to get our offense going," Shepro said. "When we get our offense going, I think everything works out for us. The first game (Cheshire) made a couple mistakes, it took a while for them to get in a groove."

"After the first game, you would think that we just got off the bus after an hour ride," Bavone said. "We came out slow. I was really not happy with the way we came out."

After dropping the first game, Cheshire stormed right back and regained the momentum by taking a 4-1 lead in the second game. The Rams led by as many as seven points,10-3, and never relinquished their advantage. The Wreckers got to within 18-17, but the Rams controlled the play in the middle of the court.

"They keyed right in on Lisa Walle right away and got a big block on her, but I thought Amanda Palladino did a great job out of the middle to just kind of give us some breathing room," Bavone said.

Amanda Palladino, the Rams' middle hitter, had 21 kills and six blocks on the evening, while outside hitter Jillian Haberli added 10 kills off the bench. Setter Sarah Rogers had a team-high 39 assists.

In the third game, Staples took the first two points, but Cheshire responded and went ahead 5-2. The back-and-forth game featured eight ties and four lead changes, with both teams struggling to find consistent scoring.

The Rams' potent servers soon took over.

"We really needed those runs," said Bavone, whose team recorded 14 aces over the four games. "If you looked at when those runs came in the serves ... it's like a tight game."

Outside hitter Amelia Brackett led Staples with 11 kills, while Frankie Lynch had 25 assists and Lillian Rappaport led the team with 13 digs.

Despite the loss, Shepro said he's proud of what Staples accomplished this season.

"I don't think anybody picked us to go this far," Shepro said. "I think at the beginning of the season, maybe people thought it was a down year for Staples. But these girls really showed up and they worked hard all season long."; 203-255-4561 ext. 114;

No. 2 CHESHIRE 3, No. 10 STAPLES 1

STAPLES 25 18 17 16--1

CHESHIRE 18 25 25 25--3

Records: Staples 15-6; Cheshire 21-1.

Highlights: S--Amelia Brackett had 11 kills. Frankie Lynch had 25 assists. Lillian Rappaport had 13 digs. C--Amanda Palladino had 21 kills and six blocks. Sarah Rogers had 39 assists. Lisa Walle had nine kills, six digs and six aces.