NEW PORT RICHEY — A pair of Ridgewood players, one long-legged, the other strong-armed, led their team to a 25-21, 25-20, 17-25, 25-20 victory over Central, earning a berth in the conference final tonight.
Ridgewood (14-8) started the first game Wednesday on a 6-0 run and seemed to stay just out of reach of Central (11-5), which never pulled any closer than three points. Standing 6 inches taller than the rest of her teammates, Lauren Vanker was a dominating presence off the bench.
The intimidating sophomore recorded nine blocks along with eight kills. She and her heavy hitting teammate Sarangelys Cruz helped close out Game 1. Cruz had 17 digs, 3 aces, 11 kills and five blocks on the night.
"They are both a big presence at the net," Ridgewood coach Amber Starkey said.
If the first two games belonged to Ridgewood, Game 3 was all Central, which went on a 9-3 run and stayed ahead.
"We came out pumped up, but I think the third game we were a little overconfident," Vanker said.
Game 4 was another close contest, but Starkey said a revitalized defense that started to pass the ball more kept them from a fifth game. But once again, the conversation returned to Cruz and Vanker, who Starkey said can change the mood on the court through their play.
"Lauren, in that fourth game, she had a couple of key blocks that swung the momentum in our favor," Starkey said. "Cruz is awesome, she can put the ball down for kills, she can find the open spots on the floor, and she just does an awesome job."
In the other matchup River Ridge (22-4) easily dispatched Land O'Lakes (7-19) in three games, 25-22, 25-15, 25-14.
The major presence on the court for the Knights was Alexandra Laton, who recorded 17 kills, 3 blocks, 19 digs and a single ace.