By Matt Williams
---- — PEABODY — The Haverhill volleyball team may have entered the gym at Peabody High as an underdog in the seedings, but top-seeded Tanners coach Lisa Keene knew the No. 5 Hillies were anything but.
Haverhill lived up to Keene’s expectations, using precision passing and excellent serving to hand the Tanners their first defeat of the season, 3-0, in a Division 1 North semifinal last night.
The Hillies (18-3) advance to their third sectional final and first since 2003. They’ll face the winner of tonight’s Andover/North Andover semifinal on Saturday at Lawrence High (6 p.m.).
“This means the world to the girls,” said Haverhill coach Bill Kaste. “They’ve worked since they were freshmen and gone a little further in the tournament every year.”
Haverhill prevailed 25-15, 25-23, 25-18 in straight sets to upend top-seeded Peabody (21-1). The momentum swung to the Hillies for good in the second game, when the Tanners staved off two set points but ultimately fell.
“I thought if we got that one, hopefully we’d be able to take the next two (points),” said Keene. “We knew Haverhill was an amazing team. They only had three losses and they were to two of the best teams in Division 1 in my opinion.”
Each time Peabody mustered a surge, Haverhill’s Haley DeRoche (10 kills) seemed to come up with a momentum-killing spike.
“She’s a smart player,” said Kaste. “Passing and serving were going to be big for us. We have a pretty good attack with our middle and outside hitters, but we have to pass.”
The Hillies did, with Ornela Llupo collecting 20 assists while setting up primarily DeRoche and Abigail Sonuga (nine kills). Haverhill also had a decisive advantage in service errors (only three to Peabody’s six) and aces (eight compared to four for Peabody).
“Looking at the season stats, their serving percentage was huge compared to ours and their ace percentage was better,” said Keene. “We knew that and we were ready for it, but we couldn’t defend it.”
Peabody jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening set but Haverhill used a 10-2 run to take control and wound up cruising to its easiest win of the three sets. The Tanners trailed early in the second set, but came back to tie it 17-17. Haverhill got the better of the serving down the stretch, however, to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
Senior Carolyn Scacchi (match high 15 kills) came alive in the second set for the Tanners, finding a rhythm with sophomore setter Sara Hosman (14 assists).
“We were hoping to stop 34 (Scacchi) but we didn’t have too much luck with that,” said Kaste. “We were able to weather her storm.”
Megan Tracy had a strong serving game for Haverhill with four aces, and she also collected a few kills. Llupo and DeRoche were strong at the net with two blocks each.