NORTH EASTON, Mass. – Oliver Ames hosted a playoff game in the William F. Nixon Gym for the first time on Thursday night and the Tigers used the energy from the home court and the home crowd to jump all over visiting Durfee in the opening round of the state tournament.
OA started strongly and never looked back, beating the Hilltoppers in three sets (25-18, 25-16, 25-6) to advance into the Div. 1 South quarterfinal.
“They were hungry today,” said Oliver Ames coach Chelsea Cunningham. “The fact that they knew today that if they didn’t give 100 percent then it was going to be over and that clicked definitely for the seniors and it just ricocheted down.”
“Energy-level,” said senior libero Sadie Homer when asked about what made the difference in the win. “We bounced back when we lost a point and even when we were five points ahead, we were ready to go.”
The Tigers wasted no time taking control of the first set, using its strong defense and taking advantage of Durfee’s struggles keeping the ball in play to build a 14-7 lead. OA showed off its balance in attack as well, with junior setter Allie Kemp (31 assists) spreading the ball around to several hitters. Caitlin Cavanaugh (10 kills) had two kills in the opening stretch and Mary Davenport had one.
Following a Durfee timeout, Grace McCallum had an ace, Jordan Bosse had the first of her 10 kills, and Jordan Vella had a strong hit to stymie the visitors’ momentum. Durfee got as close as five points at 18-13 but OA kept responding. Davenport finished a long rally with a quick hit from the middle and Jackie Raymond got involved with a kill.
“At the beginning of the season,” Cunningham said, “one of the previews said we were one of the most balanced teams. It’s nice to know that it’s evenly-matched, where kids will compete and I’m always looking for any competitor.”
The key to the OA attack was Kemp, who found the right pass even when she was running away from the net and managed to bump it into the right spot for Cavanaugh or Bosse to finish the play.
“She’s my No. 1,” said Cunningham about Kemp. “She’s light on her feet, she’s quick to the ball and she never gives up. We wouldn’t have the balanced offense without her.”
The Tigers jumped in front again in the second set with Bosse getting them back in front with a kill, back-to-back Cavanaugh kills extending the lead and then a Bosse ace making it 9-5. A Davenport block quickly ended a Durfee rally, but the Hilltoppers did make it close with a 7-2 run that cut the lead to just 15-14.
“We just had to do what we normally do and not choke up because that’s one of our biggest things is choke up and get tense,” said Homer about bouncing back from the Durfee rally. “We just were like let’s have fun.”
OA grabbed a stranglehold on the match with a 10-2 run to close out the second set. Vella had an ace, Bosse had a pair of kills, and the set was closed out by Caroline Flynn’s lone kill of the match.
The third set turned out to be a rout, as OA pulled away for a 25-6 win. Ryley McNeeley came off the bench to record back-to-back aces, Raymond had two kills and an ace, and Cavanaugh had four kills in the set.
On match point, Homer was able to scramble to send across a third hit near the far sideline that couldn’t be returned by the Hilltoppers. It was the only kill of the match for the senior libero, who recorded 25 digs and led the strong defensive effort from the Tigers.
“She’s that person that says you beat me this time, but now I’ll beat you the next 10 times and that’s the feistiness, that’s the fire this team needs and when she’s on our team just lights up,” Cunningham said of Homer. “They’re feeding off her.”
It was a dominating win for Oliver Ames (14-7), which now gets to take the long bus ride down the Cape to face perennial power and No. 1 seed Barnstable on Monday night. It is a considerable challenge, but the Homer recognized that it was a considerable opportunity as well.
“Franklin gave us a good challenge, so I feel like we can take what they gave us and just use that to influence our game,” said Homer. “I know if we stick together than we’re not afraid of anything, we’re just going to play. Knowing it’s playoff we’re just going to have fun with it.”