By Matt Williams
---- — PEABODY — The Haverhill volleyball team may have entered the gym at Peabody High as an underdog in the seedings, but Tanners head coach Lisa Keene knew the 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.
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 (against) two of the best teams in Division 1, in my opinion.”
The Hillies (18-3) now advance to their third sectional final and first since 2003. They’ll face the winner of tonight’s Andover/North Andover semifinal 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.”
Senior Carolyn Scacchi, Peabody’s all-time leader in kills, collected 15 in her last match for the Tanners. She really got going in the second set, finding a rhythm with sophomore setter Sara Hosman (14 assists) to bring Peabody back from the brink and force a 17-17 tie before Haverhill pulled away.
“We were hoping to stop 34 (Scacchi) but didn’t have too much luck with that,” said Kaste. “She’s a great player. We were able to weather her storm.”
Peabody graduates eight seniors who went 38-3 the last two season and made the North semis for just the second time in program history. Senior Olivia Summitt had eight kills and a block and captains Jillian DiFelice and Katie Gallo were strong at the net.
“The seniors were amazing; they’re all so all-around strong,” said Keene. “They’ve had a bond since freshman year that’s progressed. They support each other and this year they really supported the younger kids as well.”
Peabody played with gusto and won a number of long points that could’ve swung the match in their favor. Each time, though, Haverhill’s Haley DeRoche (9 kills in all) seemed to come up with a momentum-killing spike.
The Hillies passed well, with Ornela Llupo collecting 28 assists while setting up primarily DeRoche and Abigail Sonuga (12 kills).
Haverhill also had a decisive advantage in service errors (only 3 to Peabody’s 6) and aces (8 compared to 4 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 their 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.
“The girls got so up for Methuen (a 3-2 quarterfinal win) the other night that we might’ve lost a little adrenaline for this game,” said Keene.
“Our improvement the last 6-7 games has been tremendous. The girls really put it all out there to get better. That showed tonight — but we didn’t end up on the winning end.”