KEENE, N.H. – The second-seeded Keene State College women's volleyball team defeated No. 3 Eastern Connecticut State University in straight sets for the second time this year, but it wasn't easy.
Keene (24-5) squeezed out a 25-16, 25-23, 29-27 verdict over Eastern (18-9) Thursday night, knocking the Warriors out of the 2017 Little East Conference Tournament in the semifinals and sending the Owls into the tournament final for the sixth time, looking for their second title.
Saturday, Keene will face top-seeded and two-time defending champion UMass Boston, which eliminated fourth-seeded Plymouth State University in four sets Thursday night. UMass Boston has won seven of the last eight titles. Keene's only tournanment championship came in 2008 against UMB, which has defeated Keene three times in the last five tourney finals.
Thursday, Eastern attacked at just .063 and commited six service errors in losing to Keene after sweeping the Owls in last year's first round.
The match featured 20 ties and nine lead changes, 11 of the ties coming in the third set.
Little East Player-of-the-Year candidate Rachel Lamica of Keene was the top offensive player for either team. While her teammates were attacking at .069, Lamica pounded out a .314 hitting percentage on the strength of 13 kills against just two errrors.
Eastern junior middle Jackie Orlowski (Woodstock) kept Eastern in the third set with kills for the team's final three points. Her first one tied the match at 25-all, her second one tied it at 26-all and her third moved the Warriors to within one point of set point, 27-26. An Eastern attack error allowed Keene to tie the set at 27-all before Bailey Wilson's kill gave Keene a 28-27 lead. A bad Eastern set ended the season.
Senior outside Carly Balskus (Hebron) led Eastern with 13 kills, Orlowski adding nine and a .375 attack percentage, and freshman Abby Stern (Manchester) had eight. Sophomore Mckenzie Maneggia (Andover) had 19 assists, and senior Michelle Valliere (Lebanon), freshman Alaetra Long (Lincoln, NE) and Stern commited only three errors on a combined 68 reception attempts. Valliere led both teams with 20 digs, Long adding 16 and Stern ten.
Eastern had advanced to the semifinals for the third time in four years with a sweep of No. 6 University of Southern Maine Tuesday.