BROOKSVILLE — In past seasons, Nature Coast has looked dominant in the regular season, then fizzled come playoff time.
Wednesday night in a Class 4A region quarterfinal, the Sharks were determined to start the postseason off right with a three-game sweep of Ridgewood 25-18, 25-18, 25-19.
The Sharks (21-8) were led by senior captain Alex Livengood (17 kills, three aces) and sophomore hitter Courtney Liddle (19 kills, four aces).
Liddle and Livengood formed a one-two punch on the outsides that the Ridgewood returners could not overcome.
"I feel kind of relieved we got past this," Livengood said. "We just need to keep going and keep playing harder."
Nature Coast trailed for a good portion of both the first and second games as the Rams (19-9) came out hot. In Game 1, Ridgewood went up 7-0 early and didn't relinquish the lead until the Sharks went up 18-17. From there, the Rams scored only once more. The Sharks didn't get their first edge in Game 2 until 16-15.
"That was definitely uncharacteristic of us this year," Nature Coast coach Dan Murphy said, "but this team does not give up."
Senior hitter Sarangelys Cruz (11 kills), Ridgewood's leader in kills all season, did the best she could to keep her team alive. When the Sharks began reel off late game runs, however, the Rams had no answer.
Nature Coast ends a five-season slump in the state playoffs. The Sharks have qualified for the postseason in each of the past five years and lost in the first round each time.
"It wasn't an easy breakthrough," Murphy said. "We wanted to get to places we've never been, and now we're there."