VOLLEYBALL: Saline Sweeps Livonia Churchill, Advances to Regional Final

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The Saline High School volleyball team celebrates a kill by Liz Vance as Saline defeated Livonia Churchill Tuesday.

YPSILANTI - The Hornets are still swinging. 

Saline beat Livonia Churchill in three sets, 25-10, 25-22 and 25-23, to advance to the regional championship game against Northville.

The Hornets and Mustangs will square off at 7 p.m., Thursday at Lincoln High School with the winner advancing to the quarterfinals.

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Saline dominated the first set and then survived a couple of uneven efforts in sets two and three to advance.

The Hornets are in the regional final for the first time since 2016.

"We're excited. This is big for us," coach Emileen Palazzolo said. "We had a few moments in the game where we needed to be a little bit strong and communicate better but that's something that, since we won tonight, we can work on tomorrow and be ready for Thursday."

Saline and Northville have faced each other four times this season. Northville defeated Saline, 2-0, on Aug. 21, and 2-0, on Sept. 11. Saline defeated Northville, 2-1, on Sept. 25. Northville then defeated Saline, 2-1, on Oct. 2.

Saline came out flying in set one. Anna Hesse scored the first point with a spike from the left side. Mallory Bohl blocked a shot for a point. Laney Burns served an ace. Saline led 5-0. The Chargers got a point back but continued to have trouble with the Saline front. The Hornets got another point with a block. Megan O'Neil served an ace. Bohl blocked another shot for a point. Saline led 8-1. 

Beth Ann Ford, Liz Vance and Marie Laurio had kills as the teams traded points and Saline's lead increased to 12-4. A short time later, Hesse had a kill and a block to make it 15-6. Vance added a couple more kills and O'Neil served another ace as Saline went up 17-8.

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Up 19-10, the Hornets went on a six-point run to finish of the set. Olivia Behen served two aces, Ford had a block and Burns scored with a tip as the Hornets took a 1-0 lead.

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Palazzolo was impressed with her team's play in the first set.

"When we have confidence and don't have any hesitation and we just play our game, there's not a lot that can stop us," Palazzolo said. "When we start to hesitate, that's where things can be a little bit back and forth."

That's what happened in the next two sets.

Early in set two, Vance pounded the ball for Saline from the right side. She had three kills has Saline built a 4-3 lead. Bohl also had a block. The game seesawed back and forth. Saline was down 7-5 when Ford scored on a spike and then Saline collected another point on an errant shot. Down 8-7, another spike from Ford tied the game and then Burns gave the Hornets a lead with a tip that found the floor. The teams battled back-and-forth to a 12-12 tie when the Hornets put together a six-point run. It began with a spike from Laurio and continued with spikes from Bohl, Hesse and Ford. Saline led 18-12.

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But again, the Chargers battled back and even took the lead, at 20-19. Saline went on a three-point run to take control, with Hesse and Ford landing kills. After a Chargers point. Saline edged closer to victory with two points, including an ace by Cazzi Smith. The Hornets clinched the 25-22 victory when a Chargers shot went long.

The Hornets' uneven play continued into the third set. Churchill took a 6-3 lead with five points coming on Hornet shots into the net. Churchill led 12-7 when the Hornets began chipping away at their lead. Bohl landed three kills and assisted on a block as Saline closed the gap to 16-15.

It was 19-17 when Saline put together a four-point rally to take the lead for the first time in the set. Ford, Laurio and Burns had points.

Churchill again battled back with two points to tie the game. The Hornets lurched back in front, 24-21, with an errant Chargers' shot, a block by Hesse and kill by Ford. The Hornets looked poised to win, but the Chargers battled back to make it 24-23. They appeared to score the tying point, the point was taken off the scoreboard as the official ruled both teams had violations on the play. The Hornets finally won it on a long rally. The Chargers' setter attempted a tip, but Hesse sniffed the play out and sent it right back down into the Chargers' floor. Saline won 25-23.

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The winner of the Saline-Northville regional will advance to play the winner of the Brighton-Skyline regional in the quarterfinal at Dexter Nov. 16.

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