FORT MYERS — Clearwater Central Catholic senior libero Rachel Miller gathered her teammates before the fifth and decisive game of the Class 3A region final against Evangelical Christian School on Saturday. She and her fellow seniors had a message for the rest of the team.
“The seniors gathered everyone together and just told them that we did not want this to be our last 15 points,” Miller said. “We were determined to come out of here with a win.”
The determination paid off.
CCC darted out to an 8-3 lead in the fifth game and hung on for a 15-12 win. The Marauders won 18-25, 25-21, 25-17, 20-25, 15-12 and will appear in the Class 3A state semifinal in Kissimmee on Friday against Gainesville St. Francis Catholic. It is the first time since 1989 that the Marauders have made it to the state tournament. They haven’t won a championship since 1985.
“They beat us last year at this same regional so we knew it was going to be hard,” sophomore middle hitter Katie Moore said. “We wanted to get a little revenge.”
Moore was a menace at the net Saturday afternoon. She had 10 kills and five blocks. Fellow sophomore Shea Hamilton led CCC with 19 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Odell added 17 kills.
CCC (23-7) had a chance to pull out the first game. The score was tied six times in the game and the Sentinels held a slim 19-18 lead late. But Evangelical (25-5) scored the next six points, thanks to four CCC errors, to win 25-18.
“We changed some things after the first game,” CCC coach Stephen Shepherd said. “We changed up our defense and tried to give them different looks. It seemed to work.”
The trio of Hamilton, Odell and Moore started to get cranking in Games 2 and 3. The Marauders held a three- to four- point advantage for most of the second game. Fittingly, a Hamilton kill ended the second game and tied the match.
CCC took that momentum and jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the third game. The Sentinels cut it to 10-8, but never got closer thanks to errors and more kills by the CCC front line. The Marauders scored four of the last five points to take a 2-1 lead.
The fourth game hinged on a six-point run late for Evangelical. Clinging to a 16-15 lead, the Sentinels broke it open with two aces by Schuyler Moore and kills by Shelby Jostin and Sydney Ferguson.
CCC scored six straight points in the fifth thanks to two kills and a tip by Christy Moore. Evangelical Christian closed the gap to 13-12, but kills by Hamilton and Odell ended the match.
Miller had a solid defensive game with 40 digs in 47 attempts. “My coaches told me to go for everything,” she said. “They have two really good hitters so we knew it was going to be that kind of day.”
8A: Winter Park d. East Lake 25-15, 25-23, 25-23: Winter Park snapped the 12-game playoff win streak of two-time defending state champion East Lake.
“We picked the wrong day to have a flat game,” coach Mike Estes said. “That’s a very good team that has a real chance at winning it all. They had an answer for everything we tried to do. I don’t think we scored more than two points in a row.”
Just like in the regional semifinal against Palm Harbor University, the Eagles started slowly. But this time they didn’t recover. Estes, who coached last year’s state championship team, said he felt badly for the seniors.
“I wish it didn’t have to end this way for them,” he said. “I told them that we can’t win it every year. They don’t think that’s too funny right now.”