And despite the Black Knights having the momentum and home court advantage, Bulldogs head coach Pat Cawley was confident her squad would be up to the challenge.
“Pressure is a privilege,” Cawley said. “It’s a privilege to be here and play and it’s a privilege to play under pressure. If you’re going to be a good team, you have to be able to play in the fifth set. That’s the first time we’ve gone five all year. If we want to make a run in the tournament, we have to learn how to play under pressure so they did a great job.”
Senior middle Erin Devine (12 kills, eight blocks) set the tone early in the fifth set with a pair of blocks that gave Canton a 5-1 lead. It was an advantage that the Bulldogs didn’t relinquish the rest of the way, earning a win in the fifth set and a 3-2 victory (25-16, 20-25, 25-15, 24-26, 15-9) over the Black Knights.
“It was very exciting, we knew it was going to be like that because Stoughton is a great team, we’re pretty even,” Cawley said. “We have a rough time playing in this gym, it’s a terrible volleyball gym because the ceiling is low but its great home court advantage because they are used to playing here. But Stoughton is an aggressive team, they have good servers, they hit the ball.”
Stoughton fought back on a pair of occasions to make the fifth set tight. After going down 5-1, back-to-back kills from Sasha Hyacinthe (eight kills) and Alexa Quinones helped get within a point. But a couple of kills from Taylor Harris (15 kills, 20 digs) kept the Bulldogs in front, forcing a timeout.
Stoughton’s Hanna Holden (18 assists, 10 kills) had a kill and Amaya Morris landed a kill to give the Black Knights some momentum down 12-9, but Canton setter Nicole Brown (33 assists, 21 digs, five kills, three aces) picked the perfect time to dump the ball over on the second touch, catching the Black Knights’ defense.
“She’s the floor general out there, we wouldn’t be anywhere without her,” Cawley said of Brown. “Erin’s a great player but Nicole has to put the ball where she wants it, she’s just one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached. I’ve been here 18 years and she’s one of the best athletes I’ve seen, she’s the real deal. She’s the glue that holds us together.”
Devine registered a kill with a hard hit off a block out of bounds and Theresa O’Brien won a battle at the net for the game point.
“I’m really proud of this team,” Cawley said. “We had a tough time year last season, and most all of them were here last year apart of that. We gritted it out, they played hard and they made a lot of advancements. So I know who I have, I know they can do it. I believe in them, I believe in them more than they do themselves. I’m trying to convince them they can do it, I think this will help them do that.”
Before Canton earned the win in five, the Bulldogs were on the edge of a 3-1 win. Holding a 19-14 lead after a net infraction, it looked like Canton was positioned to close out the match. But three straight points from Stoughton, punctuated by a kill from Molly Turner (23 digs, 15 assists, 11 service points, eight kills, three aces) gave Stoughton life.
Canton went up by four again, 21-17, but Stoughton refused to go away. A net call, a kill from Hyacinthe, and a Canton hitting error (after a couple of nice defensive plays from the Knights) tied the game 23-23.
Stoughton went up 24-23, but Canton tied it back up on a hitting error. The Knights didn’t flinch as Delaney Nagel hammered down a kill and Veronica Noe gave the hosts a win in the fourth set with an ace.
“The last time we played them, it definitely wasn’t our best game, and we lost 3-0 at their court, so to come back and go to five sets with them is incredible, I’m really proud of my girls for doing that,” said Stoughton head coach Erica Batchelder.
“I just told them to play like they can. We’ve grown so much throughout this season. When we started out, we weren’t really playing together but now we play as a team. The way that they lift each other up, and be able to make that run at the end…they don’t like to lose on their home court. Unfortunately, in the end, they did today but it was a hard fought game, and they never gave up.”
Canton built a 12-6 in the first set, Stoughton rallied to make it a four-point game at 16-12, but the Bulldogs were able to finish it off. Julia Minichiello had a pair of aces and Harris added two more kills, including a nice line shot, to clinch the first set.
Stoughton responded with a win in the second set. It was tight throughout, with neither side holding more than a four-point advantage in the early stages. The Knights took a 17-14 lead only for Canton to storm back to get within one, down 20-19.
The Black Knights finished it off by winning five of the next six points, including consecutive kills from Turner and Nagel, an ace from Turner, and a kill from Hyacinthe to make it 1-1.
The third set went similar to the second, with the teams trading points in the early stages. Canton had its first real advantage at 11-8 and then extended that advantage to 17-10 with four of those points coming off kills or blocks from Devine. Devine had just two total errors on 36 attack attempts.
“Erin’s been our go-to person this season, she makes very few errors,” Cawley said. “I tell my setter if she’s on and not making errors, go to her. I don’t care if she gets every ball, if she’s putting it down, go to her. And her block is aggressive. At 6’3, it’s tough to get around. Even if she’s not touching the ball, she affects the other hitters.”
With the win, Canton volleyball (12-1 overall, 12-1 Hock) moves within one win of clinching at least a share of the Davenport division title. The Bulldogs host Sharon on Wednesday. Stoughton (10-4, 10-3) will try to bounce back on the same day when it travels to Foxboro.