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LARGO — If Clearwater Central Catholic was going to knock off top-seeded Indian Rocks Christian in the Class 3A, District 9 final Thursday night, it was going to take one of the Marauders’ best efforts of the season. According to coach Stephen Shepherd, that’s exactly the kind of effort his team had.
After winning the first two games, CCC dropped the next two but found a way to win the decisive game and knock off the Eagles 28-26, 25-19, 17-25, 20-25, 15-13 to win the district championship. CCC (20-7) will play a home regional game Tuesday night while IRC (20-8) will play on the road.
“I think they knew deep down they had to play a perfect match,” Shepherd said. “We’re pretty evenly matched with IRC. It’s the best game we’ve played this season. They really laid it on the line. Everything we wanted all year was wrapped up in tonight.”
The match was basically summed up in the first game. The biggest lead either team held was four points, and that was when IRC led 7-3. There were 10 ties, and it got especially tense when the score was tied at 24. The game see-sawed but the Marauders got the final two points on a side out and a kill by Casey Moore.
After taking the second game, the Eagles settled down in the third game after a slow start. The game was tied at 7, but IRC went on a scoring run and never trailed after that. Like the third game, IRC pulled away late in the fourth and evened the match.
In the decisive game, CCC jumped out to a 6-1 lead then hung on. The game, and match, was punctuated by a Marie Jose Amundaray block and a Morgan O’Brien kill to make it 15-13.
Kalyn Baird led CCC with 37 kills. Rachel Miller had 38 assists.
“It’s one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had,” O’Brien said. “I’ve been on varsity for four years and we’ve never won districts. We get to hang a banner. It feels really good.”
8A-8: East Lake delivers perfect gift
TARPON SPRINGS — For his 50th birthday Thursday night, East Lake coach Mike Estes was given a dozen gray balloons and one yellow hard hat — both with the inscription Over the Hill on it — one vanilla and strawberry cake, and the best present of all: one district title.
The host Eagles (17-1), last year’s Class 5A state championships, kept rolling despite a new classification and a new coach, beating Palm Harbor University 25-21, 25-21, 25-15 for the 8A-8 championship.
The Eagles will host Durant on Tuesday in the region quarterfinals, while the Hurricanes travel to Plant. The Panthers have knocked PHU out of the playoffs five straight seasons.
Brianna McComeskey, Brittnay Estes, Julia Brunner and setter Rachel Reed all had kills in the last seven points of the match, and despite a late PHU run the Eagles finished strong.
In the second set, PHU (19-7) stormed to a 9-3 lead behind Kristine Fuller and Sammy Eichelberger, but Brittnay Estes asserted herself and after Jackie Wegner tied things at 18-all, put away her fourth kill of the set to put East Lake on top 19-18.
“East Lake, they are just constantly consistent,’’ said PHU libero Caitlyn Kovach, who played an excellent match. “Even when they are down they have a certain confidence. It’s like in the back of their heads they know, ‘We got this game.’ ’’
McComeskey then had a kill, won a joust at the net and tipped in set point for the Eagles.
“I thought we played well,’’ said the senior middle, who started off the final set with a blistering kill off the chest of a PHU player. “It was important for us to win tonight in three. We wanted to keep the momentum going against a team we will probably see again.’’
6A-10: Spongers complete turnaround
TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs coach Patrick Snead felt his team was different from Sponger squads he coached early in his career. The seventh-year coach endured early eliminations from district tournaments, and he was determined to build respectability.
The culture change at Tarpon is complete after sweeping Mitchell 25-15, 25-14, 25-12 Thursday to win the Class 6A, District 10 title.
“This is what every coach coaches for, is little things like this and say that we’re district champs,” Snead said. “You hear about the football team being district champs, but you never hear about the volleyball team.”
Tarpon Springs (22-3, 10-0) came out focused, never relinquishing leads in the first two games. Sophomore Kelsi Collins ended Game 1 with her signature teardrop kill, bolstering the team’s confidence.
“More fans came in and the whole school supports us,” said Collins, who finished with 15 digs. “We really wanted to win this for the team and for Snead because he hasn’t won one, so we really wanted to win it for him.”
Up 9-4 during Game 3, Ashlyn MacGregor caught fire, scoring five of the Spongers’ next six points — four of which were kills. Mitchell (16-9, 6-4) couldn’t counter MacGregor or her game-high 24 kills.
“We usually get knocked out of the first or second round of districts, but being able to go all the way through and win, it feels like our hard work finally paid off,” MacGregor said.
7A-10: O’Rourke boosts Tornadoes
Clearwater coach Kara Betourne warned her team after Wednesday night’s semifinal win over St. Petersburg that it was going to take more effort to get past Seminole in the final. Her team was obviously listening.
Paced by Florida signee Nikki O’Rourke, Clearwater (20-8) defeated the Warhawks 25-16, 25-10, 21-25, 25-16.
“Nikki played so well for us,” Betourne said. “She’s played well the entire season. And we did a good job of coming back after we lost the third game.”
6A-12: Warriors falter after strong start
Things were looking promising early on for Osceola against Bradenton Lakewood Ranch. The Warriors took the first game against the district’s top seeded team 25-19. They even took a 10-4 lead in the second game, then things started heading south.
Osceola dropped the second game 25-23 after serving for set point and never rebounded. It lost 25-12, 25-20 in Games 3 and 4.
“We had the lead in the second game but we just fell apart after that,” Osceola coach Ryan Kramer said. “We just made some stupid errors. We lost to Lakewood Ranch in three games during the season, so I guess you could say we’re improving.”
5A-12: Spartans roll
Lakewood cruised past Bradenton Southeast 25-18, 25-13 and 25-7 to capture the championship.
“First game was little touch and go but, yeah, second and third games went really well,’’ coach Sean O’Flannery said.
The Spartans got their usual solid performances from standouts Berkley Whaley and Leigh Buttner, but O’Flannery said when the Seminoles tried to take away the two best Spartan players, Sarah Donelly stepped up with some big plays.
Lakewood had success stopping the Seminoles’ best players, as well, finishing with 18 blocks.
2A-9: Familiar ground for Crusaders
Canterbury beat Sarasota Christian 25-18, 25-14, 25-13 to advance to the region playoffs for the sixth straight season.
The Crusaders (19-6) beat the Blazers for the third time this season and sixth time in the past two, including last year’s playoff win as Canterbury advanced to the state semis for the first time.
Compiled by staff writers Rodney Page and John C. Cotey and correspondent Basil Spyridakos.