TAMPA — Bishop McLaughlin outside hitters Aileen Hnatiuk and Alyssa Mathis have matching T-shirts that read “hit it real good” on the back.
“They call us Salt and Pepper,” Hnatiuk said. “She’s my best friend.”
Tuesday at Tampa Prep, the duo combined for 49 kills to help shake No. 2-seeded Carrollwood Day from the 3A-7 district tournament. The third-seeded Hurricanes beat the Patriots 27-25, 26-24, 25-20.
Top seed Tampa Prep, which swept No. 4 Seffner Christian (25-17, 25-16, 25-20) in the other semifinal, will meet the Hurricanes in Thursday’s district final.
Twice this season before Tuesday’s rematch, the Patriots topped Bishop McLaughlin, once in straight sets. So Bishop McLaughlin coach Douglas Chinchar said he made some changes to his team’s strategy, adjusting the lineup and the serving scheme.
“The first couple times we played them, and they beat us, they ran around like it was the World Series,” Chinchar said about the Patriots. “We knew when we saw them again — when it counted — that we’d be all right.”
The Hurricanes dominated early in the first game, but had to overcome a late Carrollwood Day comeback to win. In the second, the roles were reversed, as the Patriots once led 20-13.
That’s when Hnatiuk took a moment to reassure herself.
“This is possible,” she thought. “I’m not going to give up on my team. I’m going to do this.”
And almost single-handedly, she did.
Hnatiuk, who ended the night with seven aces, had four in five straight Bishop McLaughlin points to help the Hurricanes take the lead once and for all.
Bishop McLaughlin will need to orchestrate one more upset to take the district title. And though the Terrapins — who were led by Corey Perkins’ 20 kills and 14 digs — played a sloppy third set against Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep coach Andrew Wilson feels good about his team’s chances of staving off the underdogs.
“I think it’ll come down to serve-receive and who makes the most errors,” he said. “If we’re playing low error, I think we’re going to win.”