CLEARWATER — From the outset Thursday, the odds were stacked against the East Lake volleyball team.
A raucous Clearwater crowd created an intimidating atmosphere that immediately rattled the Eagles.
Their opponent was a fired-up Clearwater squad determined to show it had improved since a four-game loss to the Eagles three weeks ago.
And after a lackluster effort in an opening-game loss in which the Eagles were bruised and bloodied, it seemed implausible East Lake could escape Clearwater's gymnasium with a win.
Yet, somehow, some way, the Eagles persevered, grinding out a 15-25, 25-22, 25-10, 19-25, 15-13 victory to complete a regular-season sweep of the Tornadoes.
In the deciding fifth game, East Lake (10-2) fell behind 6-1 but won six of the next seven points. Clearwater again pulled ahead before East Lake grabbed the next five points. At 13-all, Brianna McComeskey — who paced the Eagles with 13 kills — found the open court with her attack, and on match point, the Tornadoes were whistled for being out of rotation to cement East Lake's rally.
"We're young and for us to get through the emotional part of the game, this was a big victory," East Lake coach Terry Small said. "To find ourselves in a hole and the way we came out of it will give us a lot of confidence."
Clearwater (8-3) took control of Game 1 by winning six straight points. East Lake cut the deficit to 16-13, but the Tornadoes pulled ahead with a seven-point streak to win the opener going away.
The Tornadoes had chances to go up by two games, but East Lake recovered late in Game 2. Holding a 23-22 lead, McComeskey sent a kill past the Tornadoes' defense then followed with a block to draw the Eagles even.
"That first game was a wake-up call," Small said. "We realized we had to get going."
After East Lake dominated Game 3, the match appeared to be in hand for the Eagles. Clearwater, though, was persistent and led nearly wire-to-wire to force a fifth game.
"We'll feed off the fact that we came back and won that fourth game," Clearwater coach Joe Dixon said. "We didn't give up and stuck together and found a way to win that fourth game and put ourselves in a great position to win that fifth one as well."
McComeskey had six blocks to go with her 13 kills. East Lake's Brittnay Estes added 11 kills, and Andria Tagarelli contributed a team-high 17 digs.