CUMBERLAND — The Fort Hill Sentinels, coming off the biggest win in the program’s history, continue their chase of a state volleyball title today, against Perryville, in a Class 1A state semifinal.
The unbeaten Sentinels (17-0) play Perryville (16-3) at 6 p.m. at the University of Maryland’s Ritchie Coliseum. The other semifinal, at 8 p.m., pits Benjamin Franklin against Carver A&T.
The semifinal winners will play for the state championship on Saturday, at 5 p.m., back at Ritchie Coliseum.
Fort Hill earned the spot in the state tournament by beating West Region nemesis Smithsburg, 3-2, Friday night, ending the Leopards’ run of four straight state titles.
The Sentinels, down 2-1, won the fourth game 25-23 and then took the clincher 15-12, scoring the final three points to break a 12-all tie, with Erin Amoruso ending it with a service ace
“It was sort of a surreal moment when it was over and we had won,’’ admitted Fort Hill coach Joe Brewer. “We had played so many times in the past. I was most proud of the way we fought throughout.
“It was a huge team effort. Everyone contributed in some way. The crowd support and student section was big for us, too. We have two spectator buses going to the state semifinal, and I think that’s a testimony of the school support we have at Fort Hill.”
Sarah Lowery had 13 kills and 12 service points, Haley Wolfe 45 assists, five kills and nine points and Amoruso 11 kills and 10 digs against Smithsburg. Troie York had nine kills and 10 points, Sierra Minnick 21 digs, Rachel Alderton 13 digs, and Bailey Godlove six kills in the final two games.
It was the fifth straight time Fort Hill and Smithsburg had met in the region finals. Smithsburg had won the previous four, and 22 straight postseason matches during their four-year reign as state champion.
For the season, Lowery leads the Sentinels with 201 kills, 164 service points and 38 blocks, and Wolfe has a team high 543 assists along with 124 service points, 26 aces and 94 digs. Amoruso has 90 kills, 140 points, 35 aces and 92 digs and Troie York 100 kills, 143 service points, 32 aces, 86 digs and 10 blocks. Sierra Minnick has a serve receive of 2.12, passing 425 balls on serve receive, 243 digs and 30 aces, and Rachel Alderton has 93 kills, 79 digs and 20 aces.
“What makes this team special is that we are a very united team. Everyone really cares for each other and they like each other on and off the court,’’ said Brewer, who has a 156-43 record and .784 winning percentage in 12 seasons as head coach. “We’ve had a little adversity with Sarah Lowery and Erin Amoruso being out for a few games with injuries and others had to step up. And that’s made us better.
“No one’s in it for themselves and no one really wants the glory for themselves,” Brewer said. “I believe volleyball is one of the true team sports. You cannot do things on your own. It’s about playing together as a team, and that’s what they’ve done this whole season. Each player has improved and developed an all-around game, which has really helped us.”
The first Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association sanctioned state volleyball tournament was in 1975. Fort Hill is making its first MPSSAA state tournament appearance tonight. Perryville is making its seventh and, like the Sentinels, hoping to win its first state championship.
Smithsburg has also been a nemesis for Perryville, which had lost to Smithsburg in two state championship matches, including last year by 25-10, 25-5 and 25-4.
This year, Perryville beat Col. Richardson for the East Region title 25-9, 25-10, 25-12. Emily Merklinger had 16 kills and four blocks and Morgan Tennant 24 assists and 13 service points.
“Perryville has been to the state finals the last two years. We are trying to make sure we are ready for the environment and for the unexpected,’’ Brewer said. “Perryville’s been there. We haven’t.
“The key for us is playing our game. We’ve been serving well in the postseason and that will be a key for us. It was against Smithsburg. Another key is gaining control of the ball. Sierra Minnick and Erin Amoruso have been two key players on serve receive. Serving and receiving and controlling the serve are the two big keys.”
Fort Hill has six seniors: Lowery, Wolfe, Amoruso, Alderton, Minnick and York.
“The bulk of our team are seniors and they were able to play together a lot this year,’’ said Brewer. “We have senior leadership that is really important. We have more of a balanced attack this year than in some of the past years.”
Mike Mathews is a Cumberland Times-News sportswriter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org