SEMINOLE — As each game of the Class 7A, District 9 final came down to the wire, Clearwater found a way to close it out against Seminole. The Tornadoes saved their best for last and swept the Warhawks 25-22, 25-21, 28-26 Thursday night.
It is the third straight district championship for Clearwater (25-5). The Tornadoes will host Sarasota on Tuesday. Seminole (19-10) will travel to Lakewood Ranch.
“We had to focus against them because if they got out to a big lead it would be hard to get back,’’ Clearwater senior outside hitter Allie Russell said. “When things get tight we can get things done.’’
Seminole managed to gain a slight 12-8 lead in Game 1 before Clearwater went on a 6-0 run to make it 14-12. It stayed within three points until the Tornadoes tied it at 21 on a Russell kill.
From there, junior Ciara Lusnia took over. She had three straight kills to make it 24-21. One point later, Lusnia ended the game with another kill, her eighth of the game.
“She is one of our younger players but she is so important,’’ Clearwater coach Kara Betourne said. “Having her in there gives our team energy.’’
The second game was more of the same. It was tied at 12 when Clearwater went on a 5-0 run to lead 17-12. Seminole chipped away to trail 18-17 before the Tornadoes got some more distance thanks to another 5-0 run. Seminole cut it to three, but Russell ended the game with a kill.
Seminole’s best chance to avoid a sweep came in the third game. Clearwater jumped out to a 9-4 lead but Seminole managed to get it to 10-10. The Warhawks hung around thanks to the net play of Kona Peterson and Samantha Schlesman.
Seminole had two chances to put the game away at 25-24 and 26-25, but Clearwater kept things alive on kills by Russell and Lusnia.
The Tornadoes scored the final three points on kills by Lusnia and Samantha Reeves to close out the match.
“I called a timeout (at 25-25) and told them to close their eyes and visualize the pass, the set and the kill,’’ Betourne said. “That’s what happened. Our team’s mentality is to focus in on what they are supposed to do in clutch situations.’’
Seminole coach Dexter Rogers hopes his inexperienced team will one day make the plays in the clutch.
“We put ourselves into position to compete, but then we stopped doing the things that got us there,’’ Rogers said. “When it got close in the end, for whatever reason, we went to sleep. It’s just a product of inexperience. We didn’t execute in big moments.’’
8A-8: PHU stumbles
Top seed Palm Harbor University lost 26-24, 25-16, 18-25, 21-25, 15-8 to No. 3 Bradenton Manatee. The Hurricanes (19-8) will play at Plant on Wednesday in the region quarterfinals.
PHU lost its first two games before battling back. It is the second time in three meetings against Manatee that the teams have gone five games. PHU won the first match. Manatee also swept PHU earlier this month.
“I knew it would be a battle,’’ Hurricanes coach Tara Kuk said. “Our girls played awesome. That is a very good team and we knew it. We showed a lot of heart to battle back against them. We got behind in the fifth game and just couldn’t get back into it.’’
3A-9: Balance key to CCC's success
CLEARWATER — If it wasn’t Katie Moore bouncing kills off the court, or off a blocker, or even off two blockers, then it was Shea Hamilton.
And if it wasn’t Hamilton, it was Rachel Odell.
And if it wasn’t Odell, it was Jenna Dykstra.
Point is, it was always someone.
With far more experience and firepower at the net, Clearwater Central Catholic kept coming at a game Calvary Christian squad Thursday night, eventually wearing out the Warriors and capturing the Class 3A, District 9 championship.
CCC’s 25-22, 25-27, 25-11, 25-16 win was the Marauders’ third straight district victory, and they will host a region quarterfinal Tuesday against Sarasota Cardinal Mooney.
Moore, Hamilton and Odell each had 11 kills for CCC, now 23-5.
“It’s very balanced,’’ said Hamilton, who also had 29 digs. “We spread it around tonight. If they’re blocking the middle we go outside. … Our setters (Megan Kovach and Emily Eukovich) did a great job moving the ball around.”
CCC trailed only once in the first game, but in the second couldn’t hold off a late Calvary Christian rally. The Warriors faced set point at 24-22, but Moore hit into the net and tipped one wide to make it 24-24.
Facing another set point, Anna Vollmer delivered a kill to tie it at 25 and trickled another kill off the net as the Warriors (20-8) went on to tie the match.
That brought a stern warning to the CCC players from coach Stephen Shepherd.
“I told them if you guys want to be superstars, then you better give me superstar effort. And that game was not a superstar effort,’’ Shepherd said. “I thought we came out in the third game very focused, got a quick, sizable lead and just worked the rest of the way.”
CCC jumped out to a 9-2 lead behind three kills from Odell, and allowed the Warriors to score more than one point consecutively only once. In the fourth game Calvary led 7-4, but Moore won a joust at the net to spur a 10-1 run and put the Marauders in control.
“Our back row defense was on fire,” said Moore, a Wake Forest commitment, “which means the passes were up and the sets were up and we had our hits perfectly, around the blocks, hit them right down and they couldn’t get them because we were so on point. It was a really great clean game.”
6A-10: Warriors fall to overpowering foe
SEMINOLE — It didn’t take long for Osceola coach Ryan Kramer to explain why his team fell short in a 25-19, 15-25, 25-17, 25-18 loss to Mitchell in Thursday’s Class 6A, District 10 championship match.
“Mitchell is big; we’re not,” Kramer said. “That’s pretty much the difference right there.”
The Mustangs have an imposing front court with a trio of 6-foot middle blockers/hitters in Kaylee Gartino, Bailey Sassatelli and Kayla Widera. They can stuff or alter shots whenever they raise their hands at the net. And they have the power to extend a play with a powerful shot, even when they’re pinned in the back row.
“Our size definitely played a big role,” Mitchell coach Keith Paulk said. “We have a lot of weapons and having that height helped us go on a few more long runs, which can lead to points that eventually add up.”
Though the Warriors lost their two regular-season matches to the top-seeded Mustangs, they each went five games. That gave Osceola confidence it could pull through at the end and win its first district title since 1983.
But after winning the second game, the Warriors had to play on their heels, constantly on the defensive digging balls from Mitchell’s deep arsenal of hitters. Katie Newman kept Osceola in the match with a team-leading 35 digs and four aces.
Mitchell (22-5) has won 18 straight matches, shattering the school’s previous record of nine in a season.
2A-8: Top-seeded Keswick toppled
The Class 2A, District 8 final was supposed to be a foregone conclusion considering host Keswick Christian, the top seed, had beaten Bayshore Christian in four games twice during the regular season.
But the Faith Warriors pulled off the stunner, beating the Crusaders 25-23, 25-14, 25-21.
The first game was big with Bayshore holding on for a close win and giving them the momentum needed to sweep the match.
“I wasn’t as surprised as most people might have been,” Keswick coach Karrmayne King said. “Bayshore has been playing better lately and we just came out flat.”
Odd classes Tuesday; even classes Wednesday. 7 p.m.
8A: Palm Harbor U. at Plant
7A: Seminole at Lakewood Ranch
7A: Sarasota at Clearwater
6A: Osceola at King
3A: Calvary Christian at
3A: Sarasota Cardinal Mooney at Clearwater Central Catholic
2A: Keswick Christian at Tampa Bay HEAT
Staff writers Bob Putnam and John C. Cotey contributed to this report.