VENICE — Clearwater senior Carey Froelicher estimated that the Tornadoes played their best match of the season in a sweep of East Lake in the Class 5A region semifinals.
That's what made Saturday's three-game region final loss four days later on the road so perplexing.
The Tornadoes were overmatched in a Game 1 blowout and were forced to play catchup over the final two games in a 25-9, 25-21, 25-23 loss to Venice.
"That was one of the best hitting teams as far as having a variety of attacks," Clearwater coach Joe Dixon said. "Venice swung with a lot of confidence."
The Indians (22-9), behind an eight-point serving run from Autumn Duyn, opened a 9-1 lead early to take the wind out of the befuddled Tornadoes. Clearwater, which trailed 19-5 at one point, never recovered.
"The first game, we really didn't know what to expect," Froelicher said. "It definitely hurt us, but I don't think we lost because of that first game."
Clearwater (17-10) regained confidence in Game 2, sophomore outside hitter Nikki O'Rourke making sure the Tornadoes would be heard with an emphatic kill to open the scoring. But after matching Venice shot for shot most of the way, the Indians pulled in front late. Clearwater was within 19-18 before Venice reeled off three straight points on its way to a two-games-to-none lead.
The Indians used a five-point run in Game 3 to raise a 5-3 lead to 10-3 and held on down the stretch despite some tense moments. At 24-20, Clearwater's Leah Mitchell (team-high eight kills) served two aces and a Venice misplay got the Tornadoes within a point before the Indians' Payton Herschberger closed out the victory with her seventh kill of the afternoon.
Clearwater's biggest problem was stringing together multiple points. The Tornadoes' longest run was four points, which didn't come until the end.
"That's been one of our problems all year, getting on a run," Froelicher said. "We're like a roller-coaster going up and down."