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LUTZ — Three to one. Four to two. Five to four.
Quickly shaking off the effects of a two-hour trip across Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg improbably got off to a strong start against Steinbrenner in their region quarterfinal match.
It didn’t last long; the bus ride turned out to be longer than the match.
Within a few plays, Steinbrenner took control and never again relinquished the lead in a surprisingly dominating 3-0 victory Wednesday over the Green Devils. The Warriors won 25-15, 25-22, 25-19, improving their home record to 8-0 this fall.
“We never thought it’d be this easy,” Steinbrenner outside hitter Madison Seuzeneau said.
The Warriors (18-8) advanced to the region semifinals for the third consecutive year, where they will get a rematch against Class 7A, District 10 champion Clearwater. Last year, Clearwater eliminated Steinbrenner from the postseason in five sets.
Steinbrenner has never made it to the region final.
But the Warriors are making this postseason foray under first-year coach Laura Stegenga, who led them to their fourth straight district title and filled the schedule with tougher out-of-conference opponents.
Wednesday night, before a raucous home crowd, Steinbrenner showed it was ready for the step up in competition.
After playing to a 9-9 tie early in the first set, the Warriors quickly pulled away from St. Petersburg (20-9). They scored eight of the final nine points, capitalizing on the Green Devils’ mistakes and getting the set-clinching kill from sophomore Avery Bradshaw.
The Green Devils failed to pull even again, several times thwarting promising runs with serving errors and sideouts.
“We just had too many errors and then that lead got too big,” St. Petersburg coach Alexandra Sevillano said. “And once you get that spread, you lose a little bit of your aggressiveness and confidence and we never got our rhythm back after that.”
St. Petersburg finished with its first winning season in more than a half-dozen years and hadn’t advanced past its district tournament since 2008.
7A: Worst kind of deja vu for Sharks
RIVERVIEW — History repeated itself Wednesday night, much to the dismay of Riverview players, coaches and fans who saw their season end with a 3-0 loss to Lakeland.
The Sharks entered the Class 7A region quarterfinal as district champions for the second straight year while the Dreadnaughts (20-8) came in again as runners-up and won again.
“Losing does something to you,” Lakeland coach Crystal Ramsey said of a second straight district final loss to Lakeland George Jenkins. “It makes you hungry to win.”
Three-time district champ Riverview (18-7) had won 14 of 16, but came out flat in the first two sets, 25-14 and 25-12 losses. The third game was much closer, but the host Sharks still fell 25-20.
“Reality kicked in and they realized (the Dreadnaughts were) going to walk out winners,” Riverview coach Kristin Grosso said.
On the brink of elimination, Riverview overcame a seven-point deficit to force a tie at 15 on a kill by Ashley Baker. The Sharks then got their only lead of the night on Cassidy Hutchinson’s kill that made the score 17-16, but they were outscored 9-3 the rest of the way.
“We didn’t show up tonight, unfortunately,” Riverview assistant Faye Graham said.
Lakeland’s Kali Boatwright stood out with 21 kills and 15 digs with Caitlin Conner contributing 31 assists.
For Riverview, Jordan Alberts had 10 digs, one behind Kate Ellis in that category, and 19 assists. Kiahna Wicks and Hutchinson each added seven kills.
On the other side of the bracket, District 8 runnerup Plant City fell 25-13, 25-11, 25-21 to Lakeland George Jenkins.
7A: Freedom can't slow Clearwater
CLEARWATER — There were some tense moments Wednesday when Clearwater had to rally. But it was never enough to put the match — or even a game — in jeopardy.
For the second straight year, the Tornadoes dispatched Freedom in the Class 7A region quarterfinals with a 25-13, 25-22, 26-24 victory.
But Clearwater fully expected to be extended, especially after going four games against the Patriots last year.
“I came in with the conviction that it could go four or five games,” Tornadoes coach Kara Betourne said. “You never really expect a region match to be over in three games. But they were ready to play.”
In the first game, Clearwater (21-7) took control late with crisp passes and dominant play at the net.
The second and third games were not as easy. Freedom went ahead 9-4 in the second and did not relinquish the lead until the Tornadoes came up with a few big kills to go ahead 14-13. The game stayed within two points until Clearwater’s Allie Russell recorded a kill for the final point.
The Patriots had a 22-20 lead in the third game but could not find a way to close it out. Twice, the Tornadoes tied it. Then Clearwater scored the final two points.
Sara Myslicki led the Tornadoes with 13 kills. Teammate Samantha Reeves had nine kills and three blocks.
“We didn’t know it would be such a quick match and be done in three games,” Myslicki said. “But we practiced hard, we’re prepared and really came together in the first game.”
Jasmyn Perry was the big hitter for Freedom, recording a team-high 15 kills.
“Clearwater is a good team,” Patriots coach Kerry Short said. “We came out flat in the first game and started to pick up momentum after that. It just wasn’t enough.”
5A: Robinson goes the distance
TAMPA — Robinson didn’t have much experience with comeback victories this season, but the Knights picked a good time to figure out how to score one.
Trailing 13-11 in the fifth game, Robinson won the final four points to edge Lakewood 22-25, 25-13, 26-24, 23-25, 15-13 in the Class 5A region quarterfinals.
“We’re not used to this,” said Knights junior Lauren Peterson. “In our district the matches weren’t close. Going into that fifth game tonight I had no idea how it would go.”
She wasn’t alone. Neither team was able to take control of the match for very long. Even when the Knights (17-9) won back-to-back games they did so with an improbable rally.
Lakewood looked poised to go up 2-1, leading 21-14 in the third game. Robinson, however, went on a run to lead 23-22. Just as Lakewood looked rattled, senior Leigh Buttner hit back, putting the Spartans ahead with a kill and an ace — only to have Robinson answer with the final three points.
The short-handed Spartans pretty well controlled the fourth game but, after they were up 24-20, saw Robinson get the next three points. Buttner’s smash ended the threat and forced a fifth game.
That one was full of drama. Kimmy McEntegart had three assists but also made two points on crafty push shots for an 11-10 lead, and Buttner’s kill after a long rally made the score 13-11.
Two points from victory, Lakewood (11-10) sent two shots awry then let Peterson’s long serve go — and it landed about a foot inside the back line for a 14-13 Knights advantage. Lakewood was unable to get the next Peterson serve back and the match was over.
Peterson’s twin Alexandra had 26 digs. Lauren only had one hitting error compared to 17 kills, seven coming in the fourth game. Kylee Gorngpratum contributed 30 assists for the Knights.
Lakewood was without starters Manuela Tascon and Treniece Green, who became sick Tuesday and were unable to make the trip.
“We left everything out there,” said Buttner, who went out swinging with 15 kills. “I’m so proud to leave, with this being my last match.”
Sam Roberts, one of several Spartans who had to play out of position, was second on the team with 10 kills.
This was just the Knights’ second region victory since the school won a state title in 1978. This season Robinson never dropped a game in district play and only went to five games twice.
5A: Late-arriving Lennard stumbles
DUNEDIN — It had been 22 years since Dunedin advanced to a region quarterfinal, so waiting an extra 30 minutes for Lennard to show up Wednesday was no big deal. Once the Longhorns arrived, the Falcons wasted little time sending them back on the bus. Dunedin jumped out early and never trailed in a 25-5, 25-11, 25-14 win.
Staff writers Rodney Page and Bob Putnam, and correspondents Steve Lee and Darek Sharp contributed to this report.