LAKELAND — After Tampa Prep dropped its second straight game to open its Class 2A state semifinal match Wednesday night, the small group of Tampa Prep students in the stands began chanting, "Just like Northside."
Four days ago, the Terrapins rebounded from a 2-0 deficit in the region final to beat Northside Christian in five games and earn a trip to the state final four. Their match Wednesday against Miami Palmer Trinity began as a carbon copy: the Terps won Games 3 and 4 after dropping the first two.
"I think since we had been in that situation before so recently there wasn't a fear about it," senior outside hitter Alena Ransom said. "There was a let's-go-after-it mentality, no-hesitation type of thing."
But this time, the Terps' magic ran out. In the decisive fifth game — a quick-tempo race to 15 points — Tampa Prep fell behind early and lost 25-21, 25-18, 21-25, 23-25, 15-8 at the Lakeland Center.
"I have no doubt that if that (fifth) game went to 25 we would have won it," junior setter Caroline Dillabough said.
Tampa Prep (15-14) came to Lakeland for the first time since 2004, battle-tested after a tough schedule. And the Terps managed to steal momentum from a Palmer Trinity team that took an early lead thanks to the hard hitting of 6-foot-2 outside hitter Paulina Prieto (game-high 21 kills).
Tampa Prep's Games 3 and 4 wins were keyed by the Terrapins getting senior middle hitter Dana Malinowski more involved.
"In the first two games we didn't establish our middle attack enough," coach Mike Flynn said. "We felt our ball control was there to keep the middle running at an effective pace but we weren't doing it."
Falcons players admitted they were "rattled" after Tampa Prep's comeback, but Palmer Trinity took a 3-0 lead in the final game and never looked back.
"They were down two games for the second match in a row," Flynn said. "I don't put anything past these young ladies. They say, 'Hey, Coach, we're going to go climb this mountain. I say, okay, give me a call when you're done.' I had no doubt."
Ransom led the Terrapins with 15 kills and Malinowski added 14 to go along with 21 digs. Dillabough had 44 assists and Megan Aschenbrenner had 24 digs.
"They made the red and gold, the young ladies who have played at Tampa Prep's program, very proud tonight," Flynn said. "There are a lot of smiling former Terrapins."