EAST LAKE — On a night when East Lake welcomed back former coach Terry Small to raise the Eagles’ 2010 state championship banner, cross-lake rival Palm Harbor University had every intention of spoiling the celebration.
The Hurricanes, trailing two games to none and with little going their way, mounted a furious comeback Thursday to tie the match and send it to a fifth game.
There, East Lake’s Brittnay Estes took over, using her cannon-like right arm to put away the Hurricanes for good 25-21, 25-15, 21-25, 16-25, 15-11 and send the East Lake crowd home breathless but happy.
“Brittnay’s the loudest one on the team, and she was getting frustrated,” East Lake setter Rachel Reed said of the team’s huddle before Game 5. “She was like, ‘We’re not losing this. We are going for the win.’ ”
Estes had three kills in the first 10 points of Game 5 to help the Eagles build a 7-3 advantage. East Lake (2-0) pushed that lead to 11-6, but the Hurricanes won four points in a row to close the gap. A Jackie Wegner kill and two PHU hitting errors gave East Lake a 14-10 lead. And after a controversial point went against East Lake after it thought it had wrapped up the match, Estes made sure it was over with her 16th kill on the final point.
“(Brittnay) does not like to lose,” East Lake first-year coach Mike Estes said about his daughter. “Ever.”
A six-point run in Game 1 turned a 16-13 deficit for East Lake into a 19-16 lead, which the Eagles used to claim the opening game.
Ahead 18-15 in Game 2, East Lake reeled off seven straight points and was further aided when Hurricanes setter Abbey Bouchard limped off the court and didn’t return.
PHU (0-2), however, wasn’t deterred by the temporary setback. The Hurricanes led wire-to-wire in Game 3 and continued pouring it on in the fourth game, taking four straight points at the end to force Game 5, which has become the norm whenever the teams face each other.
East Lake won eight of the first 11 points to take control of the final game.
“It could have gone either way,” Reed said. “When it goes to a fifth game, you never know. It’s 15 points, and it’s really fast.”
The Hurricanes were led by Sammy Eichelberger, who had 13 kills and three blocks, and Lauren Watson, who pumped in a team-high 14 kills. Lee Nielsen had a terrific all-around game, contributing five kills, six blocks and four aces.
“We have a hard time beating this team in this gym,” PHU coach Tara Kuk said. “… This is the best that my team has played in this gym in my nine years at PHU, so I’m so proud of them.”
Reed was consistent in all phases of the game for East Lake. The senior had 39 assists, five kills, three aces and even racked up six blocks. Brianna McComeskey added 11 kills and eight blocks, and Jackie Wegner had nine kills and 14 digs for the defending Class 5A state title holder.