SPRING HILL — Springstead hosted its first state playoff game in program history Wednesday and looked determined.
Facing Ocala Vanguard, a defending state semifinalist, the Eagles swept into the second round with a Class 6A region quarterfinal victory, 25-19, 25-12, 25-23.
The Knights (22-6) have made it at least to the region finals the past two years, but Springstead (22-5) had momentum and played the best it had this season.
The Eagles started the first game on a 4-0 run and never looked back. The threefold hitting attack of seniors Carly Wiggins (eight kills, one ace), Zoe Mannino (eight kills, one ace) and Megan Morrison (13 kills, two aces) kept Vanguard guessing on defense.
The catalyst was senior captain Allyson Schillinger. The setter was the Eagles’ best server, racking up five aces and scoring the most service points.
For those seniors, the win solidified four years of hard work. A program that had never won a district title or qualified for the postseason has now been to the playoffs two years running and won the district crown this time around.
“This means everything to us,” Schillinger said. “We’ve been building and building toward this moment.”
Vanguard wouldn’t go quietly in the end. Although the team seemed less than 100 percent for the first two games, leading hitter McKenna Foster stepped up in the final game. She slammed eight kills to boost her team for a match-high 14. The well-rounded effort of Springstead was still too much and pushed the Eagles over the edge.
“Foster is an awesome, dynamic outside hitter,” Springstead coach Tim Harris said. “She is getting D-I offers, but the fact that we’ve seen players like that (this season) really helped us overcome.”
6A: Mustangs stymied by errors
Mitchell hung with Winter Haven in a Class 6A region quarterfinal, but the Mustangs lost their ball control in a few key stretches and were eliminated from the playoffs with a 25-17, 25-22, 25-19 loss.
“We were there all the way,” Mitchell coach Keith Paulk said.
Mustangs outside hitters Jessika Hester and Jessica Lestishock played well against the 6A-9 district champion, and Mitchell’s centers chased balls and played solid defense.
“We matched them kill for a kill for a while,” Paulk said.
But Mitchell (16-10) couldn’t capitalize. Bookkeeping errors stopped the game and killed the Mustangs’ momentum. Although Lestishock and others made long service runs, the Blue Devils (20-5) always answered.
“There were crucial little stretches when our ball control would leave us — enough of those where they were able to win each of the three,” Paulk said.
The loss ended one of the best seasons in Paulk’s tenure. Mitchell battled everything from injuries to players taking the SAT during big tournaments but finished as district runnerup.
“They rolled with the season and overcame lots of obstacles,” Paulk said. “They got to the end and still had a chance.”
Compiled by correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere and staff writer Matt Baker.