In fact, in 18 of the 20 matches played prior to Wednesday night’s D2 Central semifinal matchup with #5 Medway, either Devine or Harris led Canton in kills.
But this time around, both players had it going offensively for the top-seeded Bulldogs, each recording double-digit kills to pace Canton to a 3-1 (21-25, 25-23, 25-19, 25-9) win over the Mustangs.
“Both Erin and Taylor had super games,” said Canton head coach Pat Cawley. “We really haven’t had a day like that this year, it’s usually either Erin or Taylor. But tonight they both were on.”
Devine had a team-high 16 kills (with just two hitting errors) and added seven blocks while Harris added 15 kills, 12 digs, and four blocks. It’s just the second time this season that both players reached double-digit kills in the same match.
Even though Canton was the top-seed, the match took place at Medway High, which was a predetermined site by the MIAA. However, it wasn’t selected as the location until the semifinalists were set.
“They worked really hard on not letting the crowd get in their head,” Cawley said. “You have to beat the best to be the best, we’re going to be on the road from now on anyways. Granted we won’t be in someone else’s home gym, but we’ll still be on the road. And if you want to win it all, you have to be good on the road.” g
While both players had strong games offensively, the key to the game came down to matchups. After the Mustangs took the first set, Cawley did her best to figure out how to get Devine matched up with Medway star Maegan Hladick, who had eight kills in the first game alone.
Canton actually had a strong start to the first game, jumping out to a 6-2 lead but Medway worked its way back into the match and rattled off a 10-3 run to take a 12-9 lead. The Bulldogs responded with some strong play, including a couple of nice serves from Megan McDonough (12 digs), and took a 20-16 lead.
But after a Medway timeout, the Mustangs won five of the next six points to tie the first set 21-21. Despite a timeout from Canton, Medway won the next four points, including a pair of kills from Hladick, to secure a 25-21 victory to go up 1-0.
Cawley elected to try and get Devine and senior Bailey Shea on the opposite side of the net to try and get a block on Hladick.
“We didn’t change after the first game but we matched up better because they changed their rotation,” Cawley said. “When they started with the serve, they changed it and it was a better matchup for us. Going into the third, I had a feeling he was going to switch his rotation so I moved mine and luckily we matched up. We were lucky with the rotation, it’s a lot of guess work.
“We were trying to get Erin and Bailey, our two best blockers, to line up with [Hladick]. Because she plays the outside, she’s not blocking Erin so I wasn’t really too concerned who was blocking Erin, I just wanted to block [Hladick].”
The matchup change worked well for the Bulldogs, as Hladick finished with just four kills in the second set. While Canton led for the majority of the match — going up 12-6 after a big kill from Devine, and 16-10 off the hand of Devine again — Medway continued to battle back.
The Mustangs got within three 18-15, and then notched four straight points to go up 19-18 to force another Bulldog timeout. Canton came out with renewed energy, but the Bulldogs trailed 22-21. Devine landed a kill to tie it, a strong serve from Julia Minichiello resulted in a 23-22 lead, and Devine landed a big block on Hladick for a 24-22 lead. Medway got within one but saw its final hit go into the net with Devine and Shea ready for the block.
The third set was close throughout, with nine ties in the first 26 points, the last coming at 13-13. But Devine landed a kill and blocked an attack, and Harris landed back-to-back kills for a 17-13 lead. Canton kept the lead the rest of the way, but Medway did get close at 19-18, but before the Mustangs could tie it, Cawley called a timeout.
“I just reminded them that we have the lead and we have to play like we have the lead,” Cawley said. “We have to play aggressive and strong, and to their credit they did it. It was such a back and forth match. We battled so hard last year, we had a rough year but they stuck together and they deserved this. They gained a lot of confidence by sticking together. We’re really a team.”
Coming out of the timeout, Canton won six of the final seven points, getting a kill and an ace from Harris in the span to win 25-19 and take a 2-1 lead in the match.
Harris finished with eight kills, a block, and an ace in the third game.
“We need that second option if we’re going to win,” Cawley said. “Taylor hits the ball the hardest, she’s just trying to find her groove and keep it in play while still being aggressive. She’s working really hard on it, and she’s also a really good defensive player. She plays all six spots for her, she’s upped her game for us. She played well against Holliston too so I think she plays well under pressure.”
The momentum from the win in the third set carried over into the fourth set. Devine landed a kill and had a block, Shea, Rose Hazam, and Nicole Brown (28 assists, 11 digs, six kills) all had a kill, and Harris added two kills as Canton raced out to a 12-2 lead.
The strong beginning was all Canton needed as the Bulldogs went on to win the fourth set 25-9 to secure a 3-1 victory.
Canton volleyball (19-2) advances to the D2 Central Final and will play the winner of #2 Groton-Dunstable (18-2) and Westboro (17-3) on Saturday at Wellesley with a time to be determined. It marks the fifth time in the last seven years that Canton has reached the sectional final.