TARPON SPRINGS — When they don’t pass, they don’t go.
And when they do … well, they’re pretty darned good.
“Unstoppable,” said setter Rachel Reed, and Tuesday night, when they had to be, the East Lake Eagles were just that.
In a 25-22, 28-26, 25-10 win over rival Clearwater, East Lake clearly established itself as the best team in Pinellas County.
It has won 11 straight matches since a season-opening loss to Palm Harbor University, and while the Eagles haven’t played a complete match just yet, they are showing glimpses of developing into what Terry Small feels could be one of his best teams ever.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, just a match with some near-perfect moments.
The first game was sloppy with some of the poor passing that has plagued the Eagles at times; the second game, Clearwater’s Kelsey Souto and Nikki O’Rourke saw to it that the Eagles started poorly.
But toward the end of it, East Lake finally flashed some of the promise of a state title contender.
Trailing 16-7, it scrambled back to within 21-17.
Little-used sophomore Mary Gillis pounded a kill off two blockers, and then Lauran Eschenroeder took flight.
On consecutive kills, she slid from the outside to the middle and in one fell swoop leaped, swung and delivered a crushing kill off Reed’s perfect sets.
The two plays were identical, and Eschenroeder blasted another kill, and another running smash job, and then another kill off a Clearwater block on game point, and just like that it was 24-24.
“When she gets a running start like that, a lot of the time you can just see the other girls get scared,” said Reed, who had 35 assists. “They just start backing up.”
Brianna McComeskey then finished things off, with one of her 11 kills and a tremendous block on Souto, the thud heard throughout the gym, and the ball smacking neatly off the Clearwater side of the court.
Following the 9-3 run to close out the second game, the third game was merely a formality.
Clearwater has now lost six straight games to East Lake, after winning the first two in a match it lost earlier this season.
“It was a good feeling to stomp them in three,” said Eschenroeder, who had a match-best 12 kills. “They are a good team, you don’t want them having any confidence.”
If the Eagles were hoping to send any message Tuesday night, they will have to do so at least one more time this season, and maybe twice. And even then it may not be received — last year they beat Clearwater three times during the regular season before losing to it in the region playoffs.
Clearwater coach Kara Betourne can always remind her team of that, unless the Eagles can convince the Tornadoes before then there will be no repeat in 2010.
Matches like Tuesday’s can start to do that.
More importantly, though, is for the Eagles to build on their latest victory. To turn that second-game run into a common occurrence, to bottle what Small said was close-to-perfect serve-receive.
“The first game was a little iffy,” Eschenroeder said. “But when we really needed those passes, we got them. That’s hard to do when you’re down like that and have to do it. I think they definitely did a good job.”
And if they can do a great job — considering they have weapons like up front like Eschenroeder, McComeskey, Brittnay Estes and Jackie Wegner — this can be a great team.