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.
“A lot of it is you kind of let up a little bit,” said Salem’s second-year coach John Roemer. “Volleyball’s a game of momentum. As soon as you give a team life, the other team will take it away. You just have to ride out the storms in volleyball.”
Burke and Amanda Bickford, who had a team-high 15 kills, 21 digs and seven aces, powered the Blue Devils down the stretch as Salem won nine of the game’s final 13 points.
In the regular season the Blue Devils lost to undefeated Dover 3-0.
“Last year, when we won, I had never felt so happy in my life,” Burke said. “Winning another one with this team would be so delightful because I love everyone on the team. We’re probably one of the closest teams I’ve been with.”
Salem 3, Merrimack 1
Division 1 Semifinals
Kills: S — Amanda Bickford 15, Olivia Burke 11, Alyssa Kolbert 8; M — Jen Coffey 25
Blocks: S — Burke 5, Kolbert 3; M — Elise Jolly 4
Assists: S — Rachel Towler 38; M — Coffey 29
Service points (aces): S — Bickford 16 (7), Ashley Matthews 10 (5)
Digs: S — Bickford 21, Matthews 18; M — Coffey 13
Salem (18-3): 25 23 25 27 — 3
Merrimack (17-4):17 25 14 25 — 1
State finals: vs. Dover, Saturday at Pinkerton, 7 p.m.
Who: Salem (18-3) vs. Dover (21-0)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
Where: Pinkerton Academy
Previous meeting: Dover won 25-15, 25-15, 25-21 on Sept. 13
Salem titles (5): ‘92, ‘96, 06, 07, ‘12
Dover titles (0): First ever finals appearance