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TAMPA — Once again, Plant mounted a furious comeback after trailing big early in a postseason match.
But the Panthers ran out of miracles Tuesday.
East Lake, the two-time defending Class 8A champion, was undaunted by Plant’s playoff moxie and methodically went about making the next step in its title defense.
Mary Gillis and Shelby Younger combined for 34 kills and the Eagles shook off their first-set collapse in a 3-1 victory at Plant in the region quarterfinals. East Lake won 26-28, 25-16, 25-22, 25-21.
“We couldn’t put it away in the first set,” said East Lake coach Mike Estes. “But in the next three sets, we answered any run they had with a run of our own.”
The Eagles (18-3) have won 15 of their past 17 games, with the only two defeats during that run coming against the 8A-8 champion and district rival Palm Harbor University.
East Lake will get its rematch against Palm Harbor University, which won its regional playoff against Wharton. This will be their grudge match, as they’ve split four matches this season.
Early on, it seemed as if Plant (15-11) might continue the slow start-fast finish formula that carried it to the 8A-7 championship last week; the Panthers rallied twice to pull out five-set victories in the semifinals and finals of the district tournament.
Trailing by as many as 10 points in the first set, Plant relied on its defense and timely contributions from a deep and versatile roster including Ashley Cozart and Angel Gaskin to tie the game at 25.
Cozart had a kill and Taylor Hart, a 6-foot-2 senior middle blocker, came up with a set-clinching block for the 28-26 victory.
“They just don’t give up,” said Plant first-year coach Jessica Lamm. “It’s a real tribute to these girls.”
East Lake was unfazed by its first-set failures and pulled away late in the next three games, including a 5-0 run to close out the fourth.
“We didn’t let (the early loss) get in our heads,” said Younger, a senior outside hitter. “We just had to play our game at our own speed.”
Plant, 10-time state champions, have been bounced out of the playoffs in the region quarterfinals two straight years after a five-year state championship streak.
8A: Wharton meets its match as stellar season ends
PALM HARBOR — On most nights this season, Wharton coach Eric Barber could count on his tall frontline to control the net, stop the big hitters and shut down any offense.
It wasn’t most nights Tuesday.
Palm Harbor University’s attack was too fast, Wharton’s response too slow, and by the time the Wildcats started playing their best volleyball, it was too late.
In a surprisingly lopsided outing, the host Hurricanes rolled over the Wildcats 25-22, 25-20, 27-25 in a Class 8A region quarterfinal.
The Wildcats’ best season comes to an end. Wharton won its first 22 matches but finished 4-3, including a loss in last week’s district final.
Barber praised his seniors afterward.
“They have put us on the map,” he said.
But the Hurricanes were the better team Tuesday night. Though they came in only 15-12, they had been battle-tested by a far tougher schedule.
Behind Naomi Mack’s 14 kills and 13 from Lee Nielsen, and a dig-happy defense that quickly moved the ball into setter Abbey Bouchard’s hands, the Hurricanes were simply too fast at times for the Wildcats.
“Defensively we didn’t do what we needed to do,” Barber said. “Our block was a little slow to get to their hitters, and that’s one of our strong points. That’s what’s so frustrating, losing with your strength.”
Senior Caci Andreychuk kept the Wildcats close.
She had two kills late in the first set to pull Wharton within 22-21 before it faltered, and three of her kills in the second set sparked an 8-1 run that put the Wildcats ahead 20-19.
But Mack responded with a kill-block-kill-block sequence that helped PHU to the final six points and a 2-0 lead.
Andreychuk finished with a match-high 15 kills.
4A: Berkeley Prep back in a groove
TAMPA — While the few dozen fans who convened Tuesday at the Straz Family Field House saw Berkeley Prep engage in de facto scrimmage, first-year coach John Coup extrapolated a bit more from the blowout.
At least it was a sharp scrimmage, he indicated. Very sharp.
Five nights after committing 15 service errors in a four-game district finals win against Tampa Catholic, the Buccaneers (16-11) made only two in their three-game sweep of Avon Park in the Class 4A playoff opener.
The match took 53 minutes — less than half the time Avon Park needed to travel one way by bus from Highlands County to west Tampa.
“We didn’t let up, which was a really nice thing to see,” Coup said. “The letting-up part is the part that really gets you all fired up, but we did really well tonight. I was happy with the way we executed throughout the day, and we didn’t let that level come down.”
After rolling to a 25-7 win in Game 1, the Bucs reeled off nine points in a row in Game 2 en route to a 25-12 romp. By the end of the final game, also a 25-12 win, the Bucs’ bench had emptied and Coup was seated.
Junior outside hitter Logan Weldon had seven kills and seven digs for the Bucs, while senior co-captain Corey Salzer contributed 11 digs, five aces, and 15 total service points. Setter Maddie Alberdi had 45 assists.
“Were getting to that point now where we’re not looking on the other side of the net and saying, ‘Oh, we’re playing this team. We can win,’ ” Coup said. “We’re looking on the other side of the net and seeing a faceless opponent and saying, ‘We’re going to give it our best match and we’ll see what happens.’ ”
6A: Gryphons sweep
TAMPA — Sickles didn’t play its best volleyball Tuesday night, but it was plenty enough to sweep Osceola 25-18, 25-20, 25-17 and advance out of the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
Junior Lauryn Nelson dominated the match and started it off with a bang by crushing a kill shot for the first point. The Gryphons never really got into rhythm except for a rally in the second set.
“We weren’t as intense tonight as we were for districts,” coach Robert Brashear said. “It was just a matter of getting them to turn it around and I know they can do that.”
Senior Blaire Beamer made her biggest contribution at the service line. She only hit a couple aces but her first one closed out Game 1 and the other produced game point in the second. Senior Paige Lee also got into the action in the second, hitting her three kills.
Beamer’s presence at the net proved too much for the Warriors to hit through, and the Gryphons attacked at the net with almost no opposition.
“We have five good hitters; any one of them can get on a streak and take off,” Brashear said.
3A: Rematch on tap for Terps, Crusaders
Katie Krueger had a team-leading nine kills and Corey Perkins had six in Tampa Prep’s sweep of Lakeland Christian at home.
The Terrapins (14-15) rolled to a 25-17, 25-11, 25-15 victory, their fifth win in the past six games under first-year coach Andrew Wilson.
They move on to the region quarterfinals, where they will face 3A-8 rival Seffner Christian for the third time this season.
The Crusaders (18-6) pulled out a narrow four-set victory over the McKeel Academy of Technology in Lakeland, winning 22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-23.
“It seems like they take another year off my life every time we play,” Seffner Christian coach Craig Collins said. “We were kind of in the dumps in the first game but we came back and tied it up and went from there.”
Elizabeth Hammontree led Seffner Christian with 25 kills and Gabriella Laloma had 30 assists.
For their efforts, the Crusaders will get a third try at toppling the district champion Terrapins. Tampa Prep won two matches against Seffner Christian last month, both by a score of 3-1.
“Hopefully we can take two games off them next time and force a Game 5,” Collins said. “They’ve got a little more firepower than we do, but hopefully we can catch them off-guard and do what we do.”
Staff writers Joey Knight, John C. Cotey and Joel Anderson, and correspondent Andy Warrener contributed to this report.