NEW PORT RICHEY — Ridgewood showed no jitters early in its first playoff game since 2009.
The Rams earned the first nine points of Wednesday’s Class 5A region quarterfinal and withstood a handful of Eustis rallies to cruise to the first postseason victory in school history with a 25-22, 25-20, 25-13 sweep at home.
“Awesome,” coach Amber Starkey said.
Ridgewood advances to host Tuesday’s 7 p.m. region semifinal against Fivay, which the Rams squeaked by in five games last week to claim their first district championship in 22 seasons. The rivals split their two regular-season meetings with identical scoring margins.
Ridgewood (22-6) wasted no time in jumping out to an early lead and wiping away previous playoff struggles for a program that won only three games in six first-round exits. The Rams took advantage of six errors by Eustis (14-4) and three of senior Mary Kujak’s team-high nine kills.
Eustis battled back behind four early aces from Shannon Mammoliti but spikes from Victoria Schaefer and Brianna Berchiolly helped the Rams win their first game in a playoff match since 2008.
“It’s always nice to start on a 9-0 run,” Starkey said.
Ridgewood continued that run in the second, claiming an early 9-5 lead by capitalizing on six Eustis errors before the Panthers rallied again to pull ahead, 15-13. The Rams responded thanks to two of senior libero Taylor Vanicek’s team-leading five aces to claim six of the last seven points and start to pull away.
Ridgewood never trailed in the final game, and Schaefer blasted one of her eight kills to complete the Rams’ third sweep in their past four matches.
“I’m so proud of my girls,” Starkey said. “They’re playing so well right now in every aspect of the game. …
“They really brought it together when it matters most.”
Kujak added four aces and four blocks for the Rams. Schaefer chipped in 11 assists, and Lauren Gonzalez contributed 21 assists and six kills. Vanicek (nine digs), Berchiolly (seven digs) and freshman Aubree Sigismondi (six digs) also played well in Ridgewood’s fourth consecutive victory.
5A: Fivay digs deep in comeback victory
CRYSTAL RIVER — Fivay was euphoric after Wednesday night’s dramatic come-from-behind victory, as the Falcons rallied to win three consecutive games to defeat Crystal River 23-25, 24-26, 25-18, 25-17, 15-11 in the Class 5A quarterfinals.
“I thought our kids served well in the fifth,” Fivay coach Linda McQuade said. “They kept their composure, and that was good.”
The Falcons had six crucial kills in the fifth game: Ashliegh and Briannah Nemetz had two each, while Alli Hudson and Jackie Cosh each had one. Two crucial aces by Courtney Costa helped the Falcons pull away in the deciding game.
“We came together as a team towards the end,” Briannah Nemetz said. “We never gave up, and we can win regionals if we play the way we did. …We can do it.”
Crystal River( 20-7) got consistent play from captain Casidy Newcomer, as she had key aces and kills, especially in the second set, when one of her kills tied the game at 24-all.
Jamie Jaster’s kill put the Pirates up 25-24, and a serve out of bounds by Fivay gave Crystal River a commanding two-game lead.
But the Falcons never threw in the towel, as they began to gain confidence while taking advantage of Pirate mistakes on serving and return errors to complete the amazing comeback.
Fivay gets another shot at district champion Ridgewood on Tuesday.
Correspondent Joseph Kornecki III contributed to this report.