BROOKSVILLE — To prepare for its district championship match against Hernando, Nature Coast watched video from its loss 12 days ago to the Leopards at the Lady ’Noles Invitational in Bradenton, which also happened to be the last time the Sharks suffered defeat.
With those images running through their minds during Thursday’s 4A-8 final, the Sharks made sure they wouldn’t have to replay any more depressing film sessions.
Nature Coast got off to a sluggish start and fell short of sweeping Hernando after blowing three match points in Game 3, but the Sharks prevailed in four nip-and-tuck games, winning 26-24, 25-22, 25-27, 25-13.
“I think that maybe we needed that wakeup call because we walked in here knowing we had to play our butts off to beat them,” Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said.
Buoyed by its energetic fan base, third-seeded Hernando (15-12) took control of the match early and held a 16-9 lead in Game 1. Nature Coast, though, slowly chipped away at the deficit and drew even at 21-all. Trailing 23-21, the top-seeded Sharks (22-4) took five of the next six points to win the all-important opening game.
Nature Coast led wire to wire in Game 2 and looked like it would close the Leopards out in three games after building a 24-21 advantage in Game 3. Hernando, however, fought off three match points and got a big block from Brittany Hill to force a fourth game.
“I felt terrible because I couldn’t close it out,” said Nature Coast’s Courtney Liddle, who paced the Sharks with 31 kills and five aces. “It was a letdown, but I remembered we had two more games if we needed them and luckily we came back in the fourth game and dominated.”
In Game 4, the Sharks pulled away at 5-all and were never threatened the rest of the way.
“We’re hit or miss,” Hernando coach Patty Martin said. “We’ve been like that all year.”
Nature Coast’s Courtney Skinner chipped in nine kills and 32 digs, and the Sharks got 42 digs from Alexa Coscia.
With the win, Nature Coast captured its second district title in a row and will be making a playoff appearance for the seventh straight year.
Hernando advances to the region tournament for the first time since 2004.
“The girls have worked really hard to get to this point,” Martin said.