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Just like it did the first time the Barton College men’s volleyball team won the Conference Carolinas tournament, the postseason road to the NCAA Division I-II tournament will slice through a sweltering Wilson Gym.
In a venue where the Bulldogs went undefeated against Division II foes this season, Barton moved to within two steps of a return to the national field with a brisk 25-13, 25-15, 25-20 sweep of No. 8 seed Erskine College on Saturday night in the Conference Carolinas quarterfinals.
As the regular season co-champion and top seed in the tournament, Barton (23-4) earned the right to host the semifinals and finals with its quarterfinal win and opposes No. 5 seed Limestone on Wednesday in the semifinals beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The Saints moved into the semis by knocking off No. 4 University of Mount Olive on the road in five sets Saturday.
Erskine, ill equipped to address the Bulldogs’ blocking prowess in the quarterfinals, had its season ended with a 6-21 record.
“We love playing at home,” Barton head coach Jeff Lennox said. “I guess most teams do, but our gym is a little bit hot, and our guys are used to it. We’re used to the lighting, and obviously, everyone loves sleeping in their own bed. We’re excited to host. It’s an honor, and I think we earned it.”
Barton’s defense held Erskine to just .110 on the attack, as the Flying Fleet required 91 total swings to generate 30 kills. The Bulldogs had 37 kills on 87 attacks and finished with a .310 hitting percentage. Erskine, in its bid for the upset, made twice as many errors (20) on the attack as did Barton.
But while freshman Adrian Iglesias led the Bulldogs with 12 kills, Barton outclassed Erskine at the front line. Four players had four or more block assists, and a team that entered play averaging 2.06 blocks per set more than doubled that output Saturday. The Bulldogs were credited with 13.5 blocks over the course of the three-set sweep.
A pair of underclassmen — sophomore Dimitrios Kyridis and freshman Emil Oefstaas — had five block assists, as did junior stalwart Angelos Mandilaris. Kyridis tallied one solo block.
“I think that had to have been one of our better blocking performances throughout the season,” Lennox said. “Early in the year we had a couple of pretty good ones, but the guys were really locked in. I think they really wanted this win, and I think we wanted to play to our level and just stay there the whole time. I think the guys took that to heart and played with good passion. It helped us stay in a mindset where we could execute where we were supposed to be blocking.”
Barton held Erskine to a minus-.103 on the attack in the opening set and separated at the midway point of the second. Iglesias triggered a 7-2 run that expanded the Bulldogs’ lead from 12-10 to 19-12 and forced an Erskine timeout. Iglesias’ tip ended the set and put the Bulldogs up 2-0. In that span, Barton hit at a torrid .520 clip.
Barton’s attack dipped somewhat in the third set, dropping to .207. From a 23-15 lead, Erskine closed to within 23-20. But sophomore Edwin Montaruli came off the bench for his only kill, and a Kyridis ace finished off the sweep.
The serve-receive of the Bulldogs didn’t yield an ace, and the seven errors from the back line were manageable.
“I think we were able to put a lot of pressure on them from almost every guy,” Lennox said. “Even our float servers were floating well, so we had a lot of pressure on them from the service line. And once they’re out of system, it’s just about taking care of second-chance opportunities.”
Lancy Aldebol had seven kills to lead the Erskine offense.