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November 5, 2013

Volleyball: Burke, Bickford boost Salem into finals

Salem topples Merrimack, will play unbeaten Dover for title

DERRY — Some of the greats — real or fictional — have had a nemesis. Capone had Ness. Holmes had Moriarty. Achilles even had his heel.

For the Salem volleyballers it was Merrimack.

At least until last night, that is.

The defending Division I state champion Blue Devils got payback on the team that has handed them two of their four losses the past two campaigns as Salem advanced to a second consecutive title game with a 3-1 victory over the Tomahawks.

“It was amazing,” said 6-foot co-captain Olivia Burke. “This is probably like the best feeling ever. We know how much it meant to us because they’ve beaten us the last two years in our regular-season games. We knew we were the underdog.”

In the Division 1 state final, the Blue Devils will meet unbeaten Dover, which last night defeated Alvirne, 3-1. That will be Saturday at 7 p.m. at Pinkerton.

In last year’s season opener, Merrimack scored a 3-0 victory, which proved to be the only blemish on Salem’s 21-1 season. Earlier this year, the Tomahawks ran off a 3-1 victory, so the Blue Devils looked to make an early statement in last night’s opening semifinal at Pinkerton Academy.

“We’ve all been saying it was our time to take revenge,” said Burke, who finished with 11 kills, and five blocks. “We wanted to get the revenge we deserved.”

That attitude helped the Blue Devils (18-3) cruise to a 25-17 first-game victory. Third-seeded Salem had runs of 8-0 and 7-0 to open a 21-11 advantage.

But second-seeded Merrimack (17-4) rallied for a 25-23 win in the second, which featured eight ties and four lead changes — each of which came after the score was tied at 19.

The loss inspired the Blue Devils to a convincing 25-14 third-game victory, which was the most lopsided win in the three meetings between the two. That momentum, however, didn’t hold as the Tomahawks claimed a five-point lead three times in the fourth, the last at 20-15.

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