By Ryan Lanigan, Editor-in-Chief
CANTON, Mass. – It’s not always how you start, but rather how you finish.
That’s the mantra that Canton played by on Monday night as Milton took early leads in each of the three sets but the Bulldogs were able to finish strong in each of them to get a 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-19) win over the Wildcats in the D2 Central Quarterfinals.
“We started the match pretty tentative, I think it was nerves,” Canton head coach Pat Cawley said. “We didn’t really know anything about Milton so we didn’t know what to expect. We’ve had kind of one those years where we’re a blue collar team, we’ve worked hard for every hard win we’ve gotten. We’ve lost a couple disappointing five set matches where we were up two and lost.
“We hung in there and as the sets progressed I think the chemistry evolved and they really started being supportive of each other and relaxed. When we play relaxed we’re great, we’re a very skilled, good defensive team.”
Milton was able to keep the first set close but Canton held a two to three point nearly throughout. The Wildcats got within one point at 18-17 but the Bulldogs went on to put the finishing touches on. Junior Kehla Minkin recorded seven straight service points to help Canton close it out. Milton was whistled for two touches and junior Emma Murphy followed it up with a kill. Milton couldn’t get the ball over in three touches and then Elizabeth Hamilton hammered down a hill to make it 22-17.
A pair of errors from the Wildcats was followed by a perfectly placed tip from Murphy to clinch the first set 25-17.
Canton took an early lead in the second set, going up 7-1 before the Wildcats took a timeout. The Bulldogs committed four straight errors and a dig turned into a kill brought Milton within one point at 8-7. Milton was able to keep it close, getting within one point at 15-14 and getting within two when the Bulldogs were called for a net violation at 17-15, but once again, the home team closed out the set.
Hamilton gave Canton a four point cushion with a kill and then Murphy kill of a Nicole Poole assist made it a six point difference. Milton pulled one back but after a serve out of bounds, Canton finished the Wildcats off in game two with a Murphy kill and an ace from Hamilton to win 25-17.
Milton found success early in the third set and built its biggest lead of the entire match when the Wildcats went up 7-3. Canton has gone up 2-0 in some matches this year only for teams to rally, including a 3-2 loss to Quincy just a week ago. Cawley called a timeout and brought her team in.
“I said that we’re not going to four games tonight, we’re not doing this again,” Cawley said. “I actually got on them a little bit for their complacency. I told them to get out there and hit the ball, stop thinking about it. If its a bad pass we have to make the best set we can, if its a bad set we have to put the ball in play as aggressively as possible and to their credit they did a good job with that.”
The Bulldogs responded right away with Casey Shea registering a block kill on the next play. Hamilton had three kills, including the last coming off a long back and forth rally, that gave Canton the lead while Murphy had a kill off a quick set and Maria Mackie had an ace.
Murphy ended another run with a block kill to extend the lead to 16-11, which worked out to be a 13-4 run since Cawley’s timeout. Milton rallied to get within three points at 19-16 but Hamilton picked up four kills in the next six play to push Canton on the brink of the win at 24-17. Milton’s last effort went out of play and Canton took the win in the third set 25-19.
“I think the defense has been our strong point all year,” Cawley said. “I think Olivia Devoe is one of the best liberos around. This is her first year playing at that position and she doesn’t get a ton of credit in the volleyball world cause they don’t know her. I have been around volleyball my whole life, I referee Division 2 and Division 3 and I think she could play on any of those teams and I don’t say that lightly about my kids.
“Elizabeth Hamilton is also an awesome defensive player. When the two of them are in the back row, I’m shocked if a ball falls untouched. It’s not to say teams won’t get kills on us cause they will but they are as good of a duo as any. Maria Mackie went into the game and played phenomenal in the third set.”
Hamilton finished with a game-high 20 kills and added 14 digs and three aces while Murphy had eight kills with just one hitting error. Devoe had 20 digs and Poole finished with 34 assists and six digs.