GULFPORT — The two best teams in the Class 5A, District 12 playoffs took a similar route to the final as Pinellas Park and Northeast looked spectacular at times and lackluster at others in four-set victories Wednesday.
The veteran-laden Pinellas Park squad used experience to recover from a mistake-filled second game against Largo in which the Patriots blew a six-point lead on the way to a 25-10, 25-27, 25-7, 25-19 win.
“Watch out, because Pinellas Park is a force to be reckoned with,” said Pinellas Park senior co-captain Andrea Ezell, who had nine kills. “That second set was a basic wake-up call for us to get our act in gear. We communicated much better after that, and our communication will be key for us to advance down the stretch.”
Senior outside hitter Mallory Leary also had nine kills for the Patriots (12-9) and senior outside hitter Kylie Miller had eight. Alexis Lawrence had a match-high 18 assists.
In the second semifinal, Northeast (15-5) cruised 25-10 in the first game against Boca Ciega, lost the lead in the second game before losing it 25-20 and finished off the Pirates for a 25-10, 20-25, 25-16, 25-18 win.
“They were a bit sluggish because we had them run stadium steps (Tuesday) as kind of a message,” Northeast coach Amanda McGowan said. “We’re a young team so we’re not only getting them ready for the playoff run but for next year as well.”
The Vikings, who swept the season series against the Patriots, feature mostly freshmen and sophomores with just one senior and one junior. One of those freshmen, 5-foot-4 setter Ina Crnalic, led the Vikings with six aces.
Senior setter Casey Barszcz, who is 1 inch shorter than Crnalic, was the most dominant player on the court, setting up teammates with 12 assists and coming up with five kills.
“Those two are probably a little bit too laid-back but they get the job done,” McGowan said. “They have a sense of calm about the way they play but it would be nice if they had a little more intensity.”