PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University and East Lake produced two of the finest regular-season matches of the year.
Thursday, they'll get a chance to recreate that magic for the Class 5A, District 9 title.
Host PHU, surprisingly, had little difficulty dispatching defending champion Clearwater 25-18, 26-24, 25-9 in the first semifinal. The Hurricanes (22-3) built an 18-7 lead to take control of Game 1, fought back from a 21-17 deficit to win Game 2 from the Tornadoes (15-9) and cruised to an overwhelming victory in the final game.
"We wanted to put the match to bed," PHU's Cassie Roy said. "We didn't want to let them win a game and take it to four. We beat them in five the first time, four the second match so our goal was three tonight."
Tarpon Springs gave top-seeded East Lake all it wanted in the second semifinal before falling 25-23, 26-24, 25-11.
The Eagles (17-7) trailed 19-12 in Game 1 before creeping back to tie at 23. A Jackie Wegner kill (team-high 13 total) and Karly Gilchrist ace sealed the come-from-behind victory for East Lake.
East Lake led most of Game 2 before Tarpon tied the score at 23 all. Consecutive kills, however, from Brittnay Estes and Gilchrist gave the Eagles the win in the second game. Tarpon (11-8), which played great defense all night, ran out of gas in Game 3.
"(Tarpon) was jacked up and digging everything we hit," East Lake coach Terry Small said. "They were sending balls over to make us make an error, and we weren't as ready as we needed to be."
Thursday's final between PHU and East Lake will be a rubber match of sorts after the teams split during the regular season. Each won on its home court, with the Eagles taking the most recent match.
Bryan Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org