MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – East Hamilton, a relative green horn when it comes to volleyball’s biggest stage, saved its best effort of the season for Tuesday’s opening match of the 2017 state tournament against Sullivan South.
Facing a five-time and defending champion from Kingsport, Tennessee, East Hamilton notched an impressive 3-0 sweep by scores of 25-22, 25-14 and 25-17.
“It’s unreal,” sophomore Raine Phillips said. “I wasn’t sure we’d get to state, but we’re here and we’re excited. Everybody was feeding off each other in the second set and that was a big thing.”
With the opening victory the Lady Canes advanced to the quarterfinals and faced potent Portland, which carved out a hard-earned 3-0 sweep of its own. Those scores were 25-19, 25-23 and 29-27.
After the action concluded, East Hamilton (23-4) is scheduled to face Signal Mountain at 11:30 a.m. CT on Wednesday in another elimination game at Middle Tennessee State University. The Lady Eagles lost to Knox Catholic and defeated Dyersburg to stay alive.
Portland 3, East Hamilton 0: The Lady Panthers scored the first nine points in Set 1 before the Lady Canes rallied to tie the score at 14-all. Portland went on a 10-2 run to take control and sealed the opening win on Marlayna Bullington’s kill.
East Hamilton worked into a 20-15 lead on Madison Hayes’ tap, but Portland scored 10 of the final 12 points to grab a dominating 2-0 lead. Katie Crutchfield was a key figure in the late surge, scoring on three kills and a dink.
In the third set, the Lady Canes broke a 17-17 tie with kills by Raine Phillips and Emma Mitchell to grab the lead, but the Lady Panthers took advantage of four East Hamilton miscues and zipped into a 22-19 advantage.
The score was tied at 22, 24 and 25 and Portland went ahead 26-25. Jordyn Griffith scored on a tap and Bullington’s shot found the net to give the Lady Canes a 26-26 lead. Portland scored the final three points on two East Hamilton errors and Savannah Pippin blocked Mitchell’s slam to secure the victory.
“I don’t want people to think we were lucky this morning,” East Hamilton coach Bruna Langner said, referring to the win over Sullivan South. “In the second game, we were a little off, but a couple of girls stepped up, but it wasn’t enough. (Portland) was a strong team. They have 19 really good players and they’re smart. But, tomorrow is another day.”
East Hamilton 3, Sullivan South 0: The Lady Canes, making their third state tourney appearance, took the first set in a nip-and-tuck battle with the Lady Rebels. The score was tied at 17, 19 and 22.
The Lady Canes got a kill from Hayes, a Robinson slap-shot and an unforced error by the Lady Rebels to nail down a 1-0 lead.
East Hamilton, the District 6-2A and Region 3-2A tournament champions and Sectional winner to reach state for the first time since 2012, built 14-2 and 21-6 leads in the second set and stole any thunder the Lady Rebels had brought to Middle Tennessee.
After a Jordyn Griffith kill and Robinson’s only ace of the match, the Lady Canes were out front comfortably at 21-6. Sullivan South rallied with six straight points. East Hamilton came back with three in a row – two Lady Rebel errors and a Madison Hayes kill – and stretched the lead to 24-12.
Sullivan South scored on Townsend’s kill and Hayes seemingly ended the set with a kill, but the call was overturned. The score was 24-14.
Haynes finally ended the set by scoring on a block.
“This feels great,” Hayes said. “We knew if we got in their heads they might back down and that’s exactly what happened. We went up 2-0 and played really well to get the win.”
With a 2-0 lead, Langner told her players in the huddle: “We need 25 (points) more.”
East Hamilton took control of the finale with a 5-0 run that produced a 17-8 lead over the Lady Rebels (32-8). Sullivan South outscored the Lady Canes 4-1 (the lone Lady Canes point came on Taryn Robinson’s kill) and trailed 18-12.
Two Sullivan South errors and a kill by Mitchell – she finished with a team-high 11 – pushed the Lady Canes’ margin to 21-12. Up 22-14, Mitchell and Phillips scored on back-to-back kills.
After the Lady Rebels scored three times, twice on unforced errors by Hayes, Mitchell clinched the first-round win with a kill.
“I told the girls the third set would be the toughest,” said Langner, who took the Lady Canes to state in her first season after leaving Dalton State College. “Sullivan South was used to being here and they’re used to winning.
“I’m lucky to have two great coaches with me, but we’re nobody. Nobody knew anything about East Hamilton. That team (Sullivan South) might have taken us for granted, but we’re humble. We play hard and hustle. No matter, we won in three sets.”
And East Hamilton prepared for state by playing a demanding regular-season schedule that included three state tournament teams – Sale Creek, Signal Mountain and Cleveland – and the Lady Canes won four of the five sets.
Mitchell played a big role in the first set with four kills. The last gave East Hamilton a 20-19 lead. Phillips followed with one of her six kills.
Sullivan South fought back to tie the set at 22-all when Madison Townsend scored on a tip and Courtney Gibson recorded an ace.
Hayes, a standout basketball prospect who took an unofficial visit to North Carolina over the weekend, rammed a kill past Sullivan South defenders – she finished with eight – and Robinson added a slap-shot winner for a 24-22 edge. A Sullivan South error gave East Hamilton a 2-0 lead.
In Set 2, East Hamilton jumped into a 7-2 advantage when the Lady Rebels lost their rhythm and committed six errors fueling the Lady Canes’ 7-0 run that extended the lead to 14-2.
“I’m so excited about us winning,” English said. “I couldn’t sleep last night, but I was ready to play today. When we went up 2-0 that boosted everyone’s confidence and I knew we could win it.”
East Hamilton vs. Sullivan South
Raine Phillips – 6 kills, 4 digs, 1 block
Madison Hayes – 4 aces, 1 block, 8 kills, 15 digs
McKenna Hayes -- 1 ace, 4 kills, 3 blocks, 4 digs
Kayla Ford – 2 digs
Jala Price – 7 digs
Taryn Robinson – 1 ace, 3 kills, 11 digs
Jordyn Griffith – 1 kill, 1 block
Emma Mitchell – 11 kills, 1 block, 4 digs
Hillary English – 1 ace, 30 attempts, 6 digs
East Hamilton vs. Portland
Hillary English – 29 attempts, 17 digs
Raine Phillips – 7 kills
Madison Hayes – 1 ace, 14 kills, 1 block, 20 digs
McKenna Hayes – 2 aces, 1 kill
Jala Price – 4 digs
Kayla Ford – 4 digs
Taryn Robinson – 2 aces, 8 digs
Jordyn Griffith – 4 kills, 4 blocks, 1 dig
Sydney Batten – 2 digs
Emma Mitchell – 10 kills, 3 digs
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)