Mahar advances, 3-1

ORANGE — Just when Mahar Regional School was looking for her, Sabrina Silva showed up in a big way.

The Senators top volleyball player served up eight straight points in the second set of Monday night’s WMass Division III Girls’ Volleyball Tournament quarterfinal to help her team rip momentum away from Easthampton High School as Mahar went on to take a 26-24, 25-13, 25-10 victory at Grzesik-Bixby Gymnasium.

The 10th-seeded Eagles (16-4) were looking to score their second consecutive upset in the North Quabbin area after knocking off seventh-seeded Athol High School Sunday night. Things looked promising early for the underdogs, as Easthampton won the first point of the night with Moneerachena Nhem serving. Then the Eagles jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead in that first set as Elizabeth Whitney won a point on a block and Mary Gyeidu added a kill. Second-seeded Mahar (15-5) fought back and neither team ever led by more than three points the rest of the way in the first set, until Silva stepped to the line to serve with the score 20-20. Three aces from Silva and a kill by Allie Barnes pushed the Senators to game point at 24-20, but Silva’s next serve went long and Easthampton had new life.

Kelly Avard took over serving for the Eagles and won three straight points to tie the game at 24-24. Then things took a tough turn for the visitors, who were called for a carry on the next point before Mahar won the set on the following point, when Easthampton was called for a double-hit that had Eagles’ coach Molly Jacobson visibly upset and gave Mahar coach Sarah Woodward time to breathe a sigh of relief.

“It’s always good to get that first set,” Woodward said afterward. “It just makes the kids more confident on the court.”

The Eagles came out and took a 6-3 lead early in the second set but Silva scored a kill to make the score 6-4 and then took over the serve. The senior served up three straight aces to give Mahar the lead for good, and then added three more aces on the next five points (with a pair of Easthampton errors mixed in) and the Senators had a commanding 12-6 lead when she finally lost the serve on a long hit. The sequence seemed to deflate the Eagles, and Jacobson said her team was just unable to regroup and get their confidence back.

“I think that getting the momentum back after losing that first set when we were playing with them was tough for our girls,” she said. “We hung in there and we were consistent in that first set, but in the second set we suddenly had a serve-receive breakdown and that’s really what cost us.”

Silva, meanwhile, finished with the six aces and added four more kills in the second set, including the game-clincher. Sam Pierson served for six points in the set and Barnes added three more points.

“Sabrina just played a hell of a game,” Woodward exclaimed. “She was hitting the (heck) out of the ball.”

The third set was a rout, as the Eagles never won more than two straight points, while the Senators went on three service runs of four or more straight points. Barnes (three kills, four aces in the match) won four straight points, including three straight aces, while Caitriona Cronin (11 digs) won four straight as well to help Mahar jump out to a 13-4 lead. Pierson (17 assists) added four more, straight, later in the set to put Mahar up 21-9. Sabrina Silva punctuated her 15-kill, 10-ace performance by scoring back-to-back kills to set up game point and then clinching the match with a block.

Mahar advances to play third-seeded Lee High School (20-0) in the WMass semifinals Wednesday night at 6:30 in Orange.

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