Devil of a time

The Merrimack High School girls volleyball team played with confidence and poise all season.

That wasn’t the case against Salem on Tuesday night.

To the surprise of Merrimack head coach Tammy Lambrou, the No. 2 Tomahawks seemed nervous at the start of the match and struggled to stay consistent in a 3-1 loss to the No. 3 Blue Devils in the Division I semifinals at Pinkerton Academy. Salem, the defending Division I champion, won by scores of 25-17, 23-25, 25-14 and 27-25.

“Very nervous,” Lambrou said of how Merrimack played. “We played lights out on Saturday, so that was kind of a bummer. Salem swung hard at us and we didn’t answer back like we normally do, and when it came down to it, our defense wasn’t there either. All around, we got nervous and couldn’t perform the skills we normally do.”

In Games 1 and 3, Merrimack fell behind by large margins and couldn’t come all the way back. The Tomahawks (17-4) led for most of Game 2 and 4, but Salem (18-3) found a way to crawl back in the final game and survived a back-and-forth finish.

“We never gave up and kept fighting,” Salem coach John Roemer said. “We were down almost every single game. We pushed one by one and slowly got back in the game.”

Jen Coffey led Merrimack with 25 kills and 13 digs and Jo Coffey added 29 assists and 12 digs while Elise Jolly had six kills and four blocks.

Salem got a big game from senior Amanda Bickford, who finished with 15 kills, 21 digs and seven aces. Alyssa Kolbert added eight kills and Ashley Matthews had 18 digs and five aces while Olivia Burke had 11 kills and altered several of Merrimack’s shots.

Merrimack jumped out to a 9-4 lead in the first game, but Salem came back, winning 17 of the next 19 points to take a commanding lead. The Tomahawks put together a couple of small rallies to close the gap, but it wasn’t enough.

In Game 2, Merrimack again got out to an early lead, but every time the Tomahawks looked like they might pull away, Salem came back, tying the game at 14, 17, 20 and 22. Merrimack was able to win three of the final four points to tie the match 1-1.

But any moment the Tomahawks might have had disappeared, as the Blue Devils raced out to a 7-1 lead in Game 3. Merrimack was able to get within five, 13-8, but Salem responded by winning nine of the next 11 points on the way to a 25-14 win.

“Normally, we can be down six or seven points and come back firing,” Lambrou said. “This was tough. We didn’t answer back.”

Salem did in Game 4, trailing most of the way before taking nine of the final 14 points of the match to advance to the final for the second straight year.