Don’t be fooled by the score. Even if it is cliché, the match was much closer than it appeared.
Gilbert won the last two sets by three and two points, respectively, but that’s what the Tigers needed to get to championship Saturday.
The No. 5-seeded Tigers used superior defense, including steadfast blocking, to eliminate top-seeded Hamilton, 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 on Thursday in the boys volleyball state tournament semifinals at Gilbert High School.
“I knew the better defender tonight would be the finalist,” Gilbert coach Jeff Grover said. “I was real proud of my team’s blocking, real proud of my team’s defense.”
“I think it was pretty lucky for us to be done in (three games)."
The luck of the draw had Gilbert playing host to the last two rounds long before the tournament started. Now the Tigers get one more match, this time against powerful and surging Brophy. Brophy took care of an overachieving Highland squad, 3-1, earlier on Thursday.
The state title match is Saturday at 7 p.m.
Gilbert handled 6-foot-3 Hamilton hitter Taua Bader from the start and kept the pressure on much of the night, finding go-to man Cody Martin (16 kills, 6 blocks) most of the time when the Tigers needed a point. Tyler Hutchins (10 kills) was the other big hitter for Gilbert.
“It was a good match,” Hamilton coach Jeff Bader said. “Cody Martin – that is all I have to say. We were trying to focus on him but he was hitting around our blocks, he did a great job. They played much better than the last time we played them."
The first set had 10 ties before Gilbert ran off four straight points to take a 24-16 lead. There were 10 more ties in the second set and Hamilton was within 23-22 before Gilbert won the last two points. Both sets ended on Hutchins kills.
Gilbert started hot in the final set, Martin, Hutchins and Travis Cole all getting kills as the Tigers raced to a 6-1 lead. But Hamilton rallied back behind Kevin Gorence and Bader. It was 11-all before Gilbert got a 16-12 advantage but never led by more than four the rest of the way.
“Hamilton did a good job defending me and Ty, it was really difficult to score points but we worked through it,” Msrtin said.
In fact, Bader’s kill got the Huskies within 21-19. The teams traded points and when Ron Muanto found Brian Campbell for a kill, it held off the match at 24-22. When Spencer Wright missed a hit, Hamilton was within one. But Wright made up for the mistake with a kill to end the night.
Gilbert is making its first state title match appearance since losing to Mountain Pointe in 2009. That is the Tigers’ only other time in the finals.
“We tried to pick on a few things,” Grover said. “That is a great volleyball team. They beat us last time (3-1 on April 10) and I know they are a little upset tonight but they are a phenomenal volleyball team.”