NEW PORT RICHEY — For point after point they battled, with 19 ties in the third game alone of Tuesday’s back-and-forth match between River Ridge and Mitchell.
Two of Pasco County’s top teams and fiercest rivals traded 21 consecutive points before Mitchell coach Keith Paulk could finally raise both arms in triumph to celebrate the Mustangs’ 25-20, 25-20, 29-27 victory that stunned a deafening Royal Knights crowd.
“Beautiful,” Paulk said.
Mitchell (5-1) showed its poised and balanced lineup early in a buzzing gym with boisterous student sections from both schools.
River Ridge (5-2) battled in the first game behind two of Courtney Vollmers’ eight kills to take a 10-7 lead. The Mustangs rallied, forcing 13 ties before Mitchell seized momentum with back-to-back River Ridge errors and one of Jessika Hester’s eight kills. The Mustangs took seven of the last nine points to steal the first game.
“River Ridge brought it,” Paulk said. “They brought it, and our girls, they didn’t blink.”
Mitchell jumped ahead early in the second game before a kill and an ace from Sarah Olin sparked the Royal Knights. But River Ridge mustered only two kills in the game to fall behind 2-0.
“There’s nothing they should be hanging their heads about,” Royal Knights coach Nicole Rossman said. “That game, we went point for point with them.”
And they went point for point for point after that.
Corinne Pieterse’s two kills helped River Ridge overcome an 8-4 deficit and force a 13-13 tie. The teams traded the next 21 points as the crowd roared.
“It was insane,” Paulk said.
Mitchell took the lead with one of Lyndsey Lane’s eight kills but gave it back with a service error. River Ridge jumped ahead when Mitchell muffed a block but shot the next ball into the net.
The Mustangs finally closed out their third consecutive win over River Ridge by taking advantage of two errors.
“You saw composure from my girls,” Paulk said. “You never know if a team’s got it until you get in situations like this. That ability to side out every time, back and forth, when the game is tied and on the line. They did that so beautifully. It’s nice to learn that about my team.”
Paulk also saw a reminder that his team has the potential for a special season. Mitchell is one of the North Suncoast’s most balanced teams behind Hester, Lane and Karly Dampier (two aces). Every player jump serves, keeping the pressure on defenses.
The Mustangs hung with one of Tampa Bay’s top teams, Tarpon Springs, last week, taking the first game and leading 2-1. But the Spongers — final four participants a year ago — rallied and stole the final game by two points in the Mustangs’ two-game loss.
Tuesday’s game featured similar battles but a much different result.
“To look the other team in the eye, to be in their homecourt, the crowd making some ridiculous amounts of noise and to just steady it out, always do the job, it was beautiful,” Paulk said. “Beautiful.”
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.