Panthers Advance to NESCAC Semifinals Via Win Over Bates

Hannah Blackburn dished 51 assists and posted a career-high 27 digs in Friday's quarterfinal win.
Hannah Blackburn dished 51 assists and posted a career-high 27 digs in Friday's quarterfinal win.

Second-seeded Middlebury advanced to the NESCAC Tournament semifinals with a four-set victory (25-21, 22-25, 25-22, 25-21) over seventh-seeded Bates on Friday evening at Tufts. The Panthers improve to 16-8 and will play third-seeded Amherst on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., while the Bobcats end their season at 11-14. The other semifinal will pit the top-seeded Jumbos and #4 seed Bowdoin on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.

Ahead 19-17 the opening set, Middlebury used a pair of Bates attack errors sandwiched around a service ace from Hannah Blackburn for a 22-17 advantage. The Bobcats came back with three-straight points, including a pair of kills by Chandler McGrath, and sliced the lead back to a pair at 22-20. The Panthers finished the set with a kill from Alice Roberts and a Bobcat attack error for the set win.

In the second set, Bates sprinted to a 7-2 lead. Middlebury battled all the way back, taking a 13-12 advantage on a solo block by Melanie English. With the score tied at 16-16, the Bobcats rattled off four of the next five points for a 20-17 advantage, tying the match at a set apiece on a kill by McGrath.

The third set was tightly contested, with neither team maintaining more than a two-point edge. Tied at 21-21, the Panthers scored four of the final five points, capped off on a kill from Becca Raffel for a 2-1 lead.

The decisive fourth sets saw the two sides trading blows back and forth. Ahead by one (13-12), the Panthers rattled off a 7-0 run, highlighted by two kills by Isabel Sessions and Roberts, for a 20-12 advantage. The Bobcats fought back, cutting the lead to 22-20 on a kill by Nicole Peraica, but a kill from Raffel, a service ace by Sarah Staver and a Bobcat attack error vaulted the Panthers into the semifinals.

Raffel led a balanced Panther attack with a career-high 22 kills to go along with 14 digs for a double-double, while Roberts, Staver and Sessions each chipped in with nine kills, respectively. Blackburn had a season-best 45 assists and a career-high 27 digs, while Gigi Alper and Emily Kolodka had 15 and 10 digs. Roberts led the Panthers at the net with six total blocks (2 BS, 4 BA), English had five blocks (1 BS, 4 BA), while Staver had three blocks (2 BS, 1 BA).

Bates was led by McGrath with a match-high 24 kills, while Taylor Stafford-Smith was also in double figures with 16 and paced the Bobcats with four blocks (2 BS, 2 BA) to go with 21 digs. Jacqueline Forney dished out a match-best 51 assists for the Bobcats to go along with 14 digs for a double-double. Gabi Eustache's 31 digs led four Bobcats who finished in double figures.