BROOKSVILLE — In front of a home crowd, underdog Hernando was one of two teams to advance to the state playoffs Wednesday night.
The Leopards were brimming with confidence, and that attitude spilled into the 25-22, 25-23, 17-25, 25-19 victory over Land O’Lakes in the Class 4A, District 8 semifinals.
Hernando (15-11) began the season slowly before snagging its first berth since 2004. The Leopards were strong defensively, but no one seemed able to step up around the net to put away key points. That problem seems to have passed with the emergence of Malea Karina as its top hitter. The senior put away a team-high 16 kills, including six in the clinching game.
“(Malea’s) been progressively getting stronger around the net,” Hernando coach Patti Martin said, “and she’s right where we need her to be right now.”
The Leopards had reason to believe coming into the match. They were one of only three teams to handle Land O’Lakes (19-4) coming into the tournament, when they knocked off the Gators in the Fivay Classic this month.
“(That win) gave them a real boost in confidence heading into tonight,” Martin said. “As a graduate of Hernando, the thing we’ve been trying to instill in the girls is Leopard Pride, and I think we’re seeing that come out.”
Nature Coast will meet its county rival in the district championship game after dispatching Wiregrass Ranch later, 25-18, 25-13, 25-15.
It is the seventh consecutive year the Sharks have qualified for the postseason, and Nature Coast captain Courtney Liddle (game-high 23 kills and four aces) had her usual herculean effort to lead them. Michelle Doucet chipped in with nine kills and three aces.
“We had a complete performance (in this game),” Nature Coast coach Emily Gore said. “We know we’re in the postseason, but our focus is on bringing that (district) championship home.”