MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – East Hamilton’s bid to reach the TSSAA Class 2A state tournament title game was dashed Wednesday night when the Lady Hurricanes fell to Knoxville Catholic, 3-0, for the second time in as many days. Scores were 25-23, 25-22 and 25-17.
“It’s hard to come back after playing a really good match like we did against Camden,” East Hamilton coach Bojana Hyatt said.
“Knoxville Catholic is a good team and we stayed in the first two games, but mistakes hurt us in the third game.”
The Lady Fighting Irish beat East Hamilton, 3-0, in the winner’s bracket semifinal on Tuesday.
East Hamilton displayed a scorched earth start to take a 2-0 lead against Sullivan South, stumbled a bit and then unleashed a miracle rally in the fourth set to beat the Lady Rebels, 3-1, to stay alive in the TSSAA at Middle Tennessee State University.
The Lady Hurricanes won by scores of 25-22, 25-13, 21-25 and 25-22, overcoming a nervous 20-15 deficit in the finale to finally oust the Lady Rebels (32-12).
East Hamilton later defeated Camden 3-0 (25-18, 25-10 and 25-17) for another crack at Knoxville Catholic.
The first set against Catholic saw the Lady Hurricanes (30-4) battle fiercely for the upper hand. Despite falling behind early, East Hamilton tied the score at 17-all and again at 19-19, 21-21, 22-22 and 23-23. However, back-to-back errors gave Catholic the first set.
The Lady Canes had the lead several times, the last time at 13-12. From a 15-15 tie, the Lady Irish went on an 8-2 run that included a couple controversial calls and trailed 23-18.
East Hamilton scored three of the next four points and was down 24-22 and Maya Alves’ kill pushed Catholic into a 2-0 lead.
That knocked some starch out of the Lady Canes and Catholic ran away with the finale. A 9-1 spurt pushed East Hamilton into a 16-5 hole, but the Lady Canes showed a little life late by climbing back to within 21-15. The Lady Irish staved off two final points by back-to-back Madison Hayes kills and ended the match when Olivia Cunningham blocked a shot for the victory.
“I’m really happy with our entire tournament,” Hyatt said. “We’re proud of the girls putting up the good fight. It’s hard competition over here, but they did some very good things. Catholic just kept the pressure on us, but we played better than the first time we played them.”
East Hamilton 3, Sullivan South 1: “They’re a really good team,” said East Hamilton’s freshman hitter McKenna Hayes, who had 12 kills, two blocks and five digs. “Sometimes they had double blocks and triple blocks and it was hard to get around them, but I had to find a way.
Once again junior setter Hillary English played a prominent role in the Lady Canes’ success in a do-or-die match in their second state tournament appearance.
English contributed a whopping 40 assists, giving her 117 in three matches, along with two kills, five blocks and two aces that came within the three points of the decisive fourth set.
English had 23 assists against Catholic, pushing her tournament total to 140.
“Hillary is mentally strong,” Hyatt said. “No one affects her mentality, she’s a really good setter and we’re blessed to have her on our team.”
English approaches matches – any match, no matter the significance – and post-match interviews the same way: cool and calm with just another day at the office approach.
“We were ready today and knew we could come back in the last set,” she said. “People know me as a setter, but I think I’m a really good server under pressure.”
Madison Hayes, who finished with a team-high 20 kills and 29 digs, gave a shoutout to the East Hamilton fans who made the drive over for the early morning showdown.
“The fans gave us a determination to win this match,” the junior hitter said after the team’s quick meeting in the bowels of Murphy Center. “That pumped us up. We didn’t want to go home because our goal is to win a state championship. We’re very excited.”
In the opening set, the Lady Canes trailed 21-18 when they put forth their killer instinct to take control in the early battle. East Hamilton outscored the Lady Rebels, 7-1, down the stretch and showed its opponents to expect nothing but hard-and-fast competition.
McKenna Hayes started the closing spurt with a kill, assisted by Emily Pettit, one of the few times English wasn’t involved in a point-producing set. Madison Hayes followed with two straight blocks, and after a Lady Rebel score, came through with a kill. McKenna Hayes scored on a deep push near the baseline, Sullivan South committed an error and Kristian Michalkova’s kill gave East Hamilton a 1-0 lead.
The Lady Canes built a 13-6 lead in the Set 2 and extended the margin to 18-18 on McKenna Hayes’ kill, one of three in a 5-1 spurt. East Hamilton scored seven of the final 11 points to go up 2-0. Raine Phillips had one of her 13 kills, English scored with a flick-of-the-wrist tap that found nothing but the arena floor and McKenna Hayes blocked Abbey Jayne’s kill for the 25th point.
Sullivan South temporarily staved off elimination with an almost wire-to-wire win in the fourth set. The Lady Rebels were up 23-16, but the Lady Canes scored four straight points. An East Hamilton error gave Sullivan South its 24th point and Halle Dykes’ slap shot ended the set.
The win buoyed Sullivan South and it grabbed a 9-3 lead in the fourth set and headed down the stretch with a 20-15 lead.
East Hamilton started its courageous comeback with five consecutive points that included a Madison Hayes kill and Phillips ace along with three Lady Rebel errors.
Katie Watson’s kill put Sullivan South up 21-20. The Lady Canes dug deep and came up with a gutty spurt that produced a 24-20 advantage. Madison Hayes had a kill, Michalkova unleashed a kill, English served up two aces and the Lady Canes were within a point of capturing the match.
English’s clothes-line serve sailed past the baseline, but Madison Hayes’ kill – English set her up beautifully – sent East Hamilton to the next spot in the loser’s bracket.
“We understand that we can’t relax and must play hard until the final whistle sounds,” Hyatt said. “We relaxed in the third set and knew Sullivan South wasn’t going to lay down. That was a good lesson for us and we had to fight ferociously to win.”
And they did.
East Hamilton Stats vs. Sullivan South
McKenna Hayes – 12 kills, 2 blocks, 5 digs
Kristina Michalkova – 3 kills, 2 digs, 1 block
Jayla Price – 1 kill, 6 digs
Jordyn Griffith – 6 kills
Kayla Ford – 10 digs
Emma Mitchell – 7 kills, 11 digs
Madison Allen – 3 kills, 1 block
Raine Phillips – 13 kills, 3 blocks, 1 ace
Hillary English – 2 aces, 2 kills, 40 assists, 5 blocks, 11 digs
Emily Pettit – 5 assists
Sydney Batten – 1 kill, 2 digs
Megan Lewis – 1 ace, 2 digs
East Hamilton Stats vs. Camden
Hillary English – 3 aces, 1 kill, 38 assists, 3 blocks, 12 digs
Madison Hayes – 18 kills, 18 digs
Raine Phillips – 9 kills, 2 blocks, 2 digs
McKenna Hayes – 2 aces, 6 kills, 6 digs
Kristina Michalkova – 2 aces, 13 kills, 12 digs
Emma Mitchell – 1 ace, 1 kill, 17 digs
Jala Price – 6 digs
Megan Lewis – 1 ace
East Hamilton Stats vs. Knox Catholic
Hillary English – 23 assists, 9 digs
Madison Hayes – 12 kills, 2 blocks, 17 digs
Raine Phillips – 1 ace, 3 kills, 1 block
McKenna Hayes – 6 kills, 4 blocks, 4 digs
Emma Mitchell – 1 ace, 2 kills, 10 digs
Kristina Michalkova – 2 aces, 7 kills, 4 blocks, 11 digs
Jala Price – 2 digs
Kayla Ford – 7 digs
Emily Pettit – 6 assists
Madison Allen – 1 kill, 1 block
(Contact Larry Fleming at email@example.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)