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Pilots crash land Braves' state title plans
Although they had never played before, Hamilton High coach Erin Johnson said the caliber of play from visiting St. Joseph Notre Dame did not come as a surprise on Tuesday.
"We watched tape of their section championship game," she said of the Pilots, who went 26-11 and finished second to Branson in the North Coast Section championships. "We knew what they had coming in, and they had lots of horses."
Leading the charge for the third-seeded Pilots was 6-foot, 2 inch middle hitter and team captain Phoebe Grunt, who made her presence known immediately and often throughout No. 6 Hamilton's 25-15, 25-20, 25-20 loss.
Grunt figured into the Pilots' first four points in Game 1, snuffing three balls that were either passed or hit too close to the net, and landing the first of the five kills she delivered in the first game to make it 4-1.
A Grunt block of Hamilton's 6-6 Audra Jones, followed by kills from sophomore Rebecca Langowski and Grunt, stretched the visitor's advantage to 10-2. The Braves chipped away with kills coming from Jones, Erica Mercado, Cassie Ponke and Raegan Avrit, but were never able to close the gap to less than four points.
The beginning of Game 2 looked eerily familiar, as Grunt provided another block of Jones, a kill and two well-placed tips to stake the Pilots to another 4-1 lead. After the Braves played their way back in to deadlock the score at 5-5, Grunt followed up a kill with three straight aces and the score soon stood at 12-6.
Jones turned the tables on Grunt later in the match by blocking two of her kill attempts in a row and trimming the deficit to 20-17. Jones followed another Mercado block with an ace to make it a 21-19 ballgame, but the Pilots secured the points they needed to go up 2-0 in the match.
Hoping to keep their season alive for at least one more game, the Braves opened Game 3 with the first two points, one coming when Jones quickly went to her off-hand to land a shot, and the second from another block of Grunt.
The most competitive of the three games, the third featured seven ties until the Pilots took the lead at 18-17, and it was a lead they would not relinquish.
Looking back at Hamilton's 25-10 campaign, Johnson was anything but let down by the season's end.
"We set goals before the season began, to win league and strive for five (consecutive section championships.) In August, I wasn't sure if we'd really reach any of the goals but they all proved me wrong. They got along and never had issues; they went beyond expectations."
CONTACT Craig Purcell at 824-1036 or firstname.lastname@example.org.