NEW BOSTON — Winning postseason games are no easy task in any sport.
And at New Boston, it has certainly been a struggle to obtain a playoff victory over the years
However, the New Boston volleyball program has the moxie, poise, and talent to win postseason matchups — and on Friday evening, the Lady Tigers showed off each of those qualities.
Behind an astonishing 51 kills and two blocks combined from Ali Hamilton and Kaylee Stone, New Boston survived a strong and valiant Eastern attack led by Kaytlyn Newsome and Andee Lester, and, after battling the Lady Eagles to a 2-2 deadlock, pulled away by collecting an 8-0 run in the fifth and final frame to win the final set, 15-5, and dispatch Eastern for good, 3-2, in a hard-fought Division IV Sectional Final matchup between two rock-solid SOC I volleyball programs on Thursday evening.
For Kendra Holbrook, the ability of her team to stave off a strong contest by Eastern — and earn back-to-back trips to the Division IV District Tournament for the first time in 10 years as a result — is a credit to the hard work that her girls put into the match.
“It was definitely a hard-fought match,” Holbrook said. “I knew Eastern would bring it, because I knew that they really wanted to win. I told my girls that we had to play really hard, and that we can’t assume that we have the win just because we’re the higher seed. Eastern really fought for it, but we fought back.”
At first, however, the the Lady Eagles’ attack proved to be tough to handle. Behind three attack errors from New Boston, along with two aces from Newsome, Eastern was able to jump out to a 13-7 lead over the first 20 volleys of action.
However, the frontline duo of Hamilton and Stone weren’t about to let New Boston go down without a fight. Over the next 26 volleys, the pair were able to collect nine kills between them as the Lady Tigers stormed back from the 13-7 deficit to not only tie Eastern, 18-18, 19-19, and 20-20, in the first set, but eventually, take the lead with the help of a 4-1 spurt that eventually closed out the first set in New Boston’s favor, 25-21.
Throughout the remainder of the contest, the pair were absolutely vital to the success of the Lady Tigers’ offensive attack, as Hamilton obtained 30 kills and a block on her own, while Stone notched 21 kills and an additional block to lead New Boston over the duration of the match.
“Ali and Kaylee really helped us out from an offensive and defensive standpoint,” Holbrook said. “They’re great hitters, and if hitting’s not on at that moment, they work on tipping and finding spots on the court that’s open. Also, we just had a lot of great saves in the back row from all around. Back row saves really helped us out.”
In the second set of action, New Boston, again, rallied from a sizeable deficit — one of the 11-6 variety — to duke it out with Eastern as a 7-1 run allowed the Lady Tigers to take a 13-12 advantage nearly halfway through the second set of play.
But even though New Boston opened that margin up to a 21-16 count in the second set of action, Eastern, again, responded behind the play of Newsome. The sophomore’s 10 aces and four kills, including three aces in the latter stages of the second frame of play, allowed the Lady Eagles to go on a 6-0 run that ultimately proved to be crucial in Eastern evening the match at a game apiece.
However, after falling in the second set, New Boston quickly recovered in the third frame of action. Behind the play of Hamilton, Stone, and Bri Humble (who had two aces and two blocks in the set), the Lady Tigers jumped out to a 12-2 advantage. Then, after allowing Eastern to go on an 11-1 spurt to cut the gap to a 13-12 margin, the trio took over matters for good as both of Humble’s aces, three Stone kills, and two Hamilton spikes allowed New Boston to open the gap up in prevailing by a 25-20 tally.
Still, Eastern didn’t show any give. In fact, the Lady Eagles came back with a vengeance as Eastern overcame a 6-1 deficit, used a 14-2 run to take a 15-8 advantage, then went on a 6-1 run of its own to take a commanding 22-11 lead behind the play of Newsome, who obtained three aces and two kills in her own right.
But even though New Boston was down, the Lady Tigers certainly weren’t out. In response to Eastern’s strong play, New Boston countered with a furious rally as Hamilton and Stone teamed up to collect five kills and a block to make a quick 10-2 spurt en route to cutting the lead to a 24-22 tally.
And even though an error on an attack attempt ultimately spelled defeat for New Boston in the fourth set, the Lady Tigers — behind the play of Hamilton and Stone — ultimately proved that they wouldn’t be denied.
“I didn’t look for the fourth set to end the way that it did, because we were making a spirited run with all of the points that we gathered up,” Holbrook said. “But we bounced back, and carried over the strong play that we showed off late in the fourth set all the way through the fifth set. I’m really proud of the girls for maintaining their focus and poise even after the the late run in the fourth set didn’t end in the way that it hoped that it would. They didn’t dwell on the result.”
The star duo, who combined to collect at least nine or more kills in each of the five sets, stepped up big when it mattered the most as the duo combined for nine kills and a block en route to leading the Lady Tigers to an 8-0 run and a commanding fifth set lead that it would never relinquish.
“My seniors were saying, ‘This is not going to be the last game that I play for Glenwood,’” Holbrook said. “Having that mindset and that heart really helped out, especially in the fifth set.”
With the victory, New Boston improved its overall mark to 18-5 on the season — a mark that bests last year’s Division IV District Semifinal squad for the most wins in the current decade. The Lady Tigers will look to continue their upward march on Thursday, Oct. 26 at Jackson High School, when New Boston faces Federal Hocking (a 3-2 winner over Trimble) for the right to advance to the Division IV District Finals.
“We want to win at Jackson this year,” Holbrook said. “Last year, I believe, was a whole new experience with us being there, and the nerves of being at that stage got to us, because we didn’t play our game last year at Jackson. Hopefully, this year, we’ll go there and really show them what we can do.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT