MILFORD, Mass. – Oliver Ames dominated the first two sets of Tuesday evening’s battle of division leaders at Milford, winning 25-11 and 25-14 to take control of the match. Everything was going OA’s way until the third set, when the Hawks stayed alive by grabbing a 25-19 win.
Just when it looked like the hosts might also be able to grab the momentum and add drama to the match, OA took back control. The Tigers rolled in the fourth and final set, winning 25-12, to earn an impressive bounce back 3-1 victory that keeps them just ahead of Franklin and King Philip in the Kelley-Rex division title race.
“I said, the game’s not over,” said OA coach Chelsea Cunningham about her message to the team heading into the fourth set. “The game’s never over until you hear the whistle blow and if you take it one point at a time, play together, it makes a world of difference.”
Milford entered Tuesday’s game in a three-way tie for first in the Davenport division with Canton and North Attleboro and the Hawks started well enough in the opening set. Lauren Corsini had a pair of kills and Sarah Brogioli had an ace to put the home team up 4-2 early. That was the high point of the set for the Hawks.
OA setter Allie Kemp (27 assists) started spreading the ball around to the Tigers’ talented hitters, with Jordan Bosse (team-high 13 kills) and Ryley McNeeley (10 kills) both finding the range on the outside. The balance in the OA attack proved difficult for Milford to control.
Cunningham explained, “It’s nice to have options rather than rely on one person and strain that player. I like having options and the kids know they’re all options, so being able to mix it up and have a flexible lineup is really fun to work with.”
The Hawks also hurt themselves. Shorthanded after an injury ruled junior hitter Elise Fauerbach out for the season, Milford looked out of sorts in all aspects of the game from serve-receive to hitting to defense. OA took advantage to jump in front and never look back.
“Everything was off,” said Milford coach Tammy Webber. “We didn’t have everyone at practice yesterday. Elise went off [injured] on Friday, so we didn’t practice as a team with the new lineup. Not that it matters…we were just flat. We adjusted finally and then we didn’t stick with our game plan.”
The second set started even worse for Milford. OA won eight straight points to build an 11-1 lead. McNeeley continued to find the range on the outside and Sarah Morley had a pair of aces during her eight-point run at the service line. The Hawks tried to battle back behind Allison Corsini’s kills from her middle position, but OA quickly snuffed out any momentum.
Jordyn Vella smashed a kill right down the middle to make it 17-6. Brogioli got hot at the service line with three aces that cut the lead to nine, but Bosse closed out the set with another kill that put OA in position to take the match.
While it was an admittedly rough night for the Hawks, they showed fight in the third set to keep from being swept. The hosts grabbed the lead on back-to-back Brogioli kills, a block by Lauren Corsini, and an ace by Lexi Starks. OA got back within five, but consecutive kills by setter Julia Riordan and hitter Alyssa Williamson made it 22-15 and essentially sealed the set.
“We started blocking and playing defense and we were able to set up our offense, swinging and not making unforced errors,” said Webber. She added, “We need to rise to the occasion. We need to play better against the better teams, consistently.”
After extending the match, it looked like the home team might make it an interesting finish, but instead the Tigers responded, leading 6-1 and 9-2 to halt any momentum. Sophomore Hadley Rhodes gave OA a spark in the fourth set with back-to-back kills that made it 14-5 and then a block that put the Tigers ahead 22-8.
“She’s awesome,” Cunningham said about Rhodes. “She’s young, she wants to play, will do anything to get on the floor and when she gets that time she puts 100 percent in. I’ll take someone who’s feisty and wants to take risks.”
It was an important road win for the Tigers, keeping them one ahead of Franklin in the loss column and now two ahead of King Philip in the win column (OA has played two more league games than the Warriors).
Cunningham said, “We had to take this one seriously and know that we had to earn it. They’re starting to learn that when they earn their points it’s more fun that relying on other teams making mistakes.”