LAKELAND — Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino has taken 20 of his Buccaneers teams to the state tournament in his 27 years as coach.
But none elicited a feeling like the one he brought to the Lakeland Center on Wednesday night looking to win a 14th state title.
Even though the Buccaneers played from behind for nearly the entire night against Class 3A state semifinal opponent Orlando Bishop Moore, including a three-point deficit in a decisive Game 5, he believed his team could persevere.
And his players proved him right. The Buccaneers, ranked the No. 1 team in the state by MaxPreps, came back from a two-games-to-one deficit to beat the Hornets 24-26, 25-19, 19-25, 25-22, 15-9.
“We’ve come here several years in a row,” Dagostino said of the Bucs’ sixth straight trip to Lakeland. “There’s a chemistry about this team, a feistiness in this collection of girls, that I felt more comfortable coming to this tournament with this team than any team I’ve brought here.
“If I was a betting man, I really liked our chances when we were able to get to a Game 5.”
Berkeley (29-2), playing for its second straight state title, moves on to face North Broward Prep, a five-game winner in the day’s first semifinal, in Thursday night’s championship.
The Buccaneers’ win over the Hornets (26-5) was their proudest of the season, and proved to be their toughest. In postgame interviews, they compared bruises. Outside hitters Jordan Burgess and Amber Mirabello, who combined for 117 attacks, had bags of ice on their shoulders. Libero Natasha Rowland, who had a team-high 26 digs, sported a swollen upper lip.
“From the first point, (Rowland) she collides and starts bleeding all over the place, I tell myself, ‘This is going to be a great match,’ ” setter Mackenzie Dagostino said. “I would watch this (match) over and over again like it was my favorite Glee episode, over and over again.”
Burgess had eight of her match-high 36 kills in the Game 5, leading the Bucs back from a 6-3 deficit. But after the Bucs tied the game at 8, they scored six straight points with senior Taylor Hayes serving.
“When the teams are so evenly matched like this one, instead of being about skill level it’s the team that wants it the most that wins it,” Burgess said. “When we were down 6-3, we all came in saying we were not willing to lose here and let our season go.”
After the Bucs dropped the first game, Mirabello had seven of her 15 kills in Game 2 to help lead Berkeley back with a win.
“We had to push, push harder than we’ve had to all season it feels like,” Mirabello said.
Bishop Moore took Game 3 and nearly rallied in Game 4 to make it 23-22, but Berkeley emerged from the timeout with the next two points to force Game 5.
Dagostino had 53 assists, 10 kills and 10 digs for Berkeley, while Burgess and setter Ginny Willis each added 19 digs.
Bishop Moore sophomore Lindsey Owens was a force all night, leading the Hornets with 24 kills but none in Game 5.
“It was just what a state semifinal should be,” Randy Dagostino said. “We’ve been training for this game for about a month, and probably could have used another week.”