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Bucs bounce Knights

They will pinch themselves in the morning just to make sure it wasn't a dream. They may stop each other in the hallways and wonder if it really happened.

But when members of the Gulf team meet for practice this afternoon, one thing will be a glaring reality _ the Bucs are in the Class 5A, District 8 final.

Gulf, behind an emotional effort from nearly every player, shook off a disappointing first set and roared back to shock River Ridge 2-15, 15-11 and 15-10 in the opening game of Wednesday night's semifinal action.

"I can't believe this is happening," said Gulf's Jordan Brown who registered the game winning serve and was key through the entire match. "This is remarkable."

The Bucs will play Tarpon Springs in Friday's final. The Spongers, who went in as the No.

2 seed, survived a spirited Ridgewood team. The Spongers saw the Rams survive five match points in the final game before prevailing 13-15, 15-7, 17-15.

The night of drama began from the first serve. River Ridge, who entered the contest with a 9-1 regular season district record which included two wins over Gulf, looked like it would take little time in dispensing with the Bucs. Behind strong serving from Erin Pixton, River Ridge opened a 7-0 lead, gave up two points and then ran away for the 15-2 victory.

But River Ridge's flawless play in the opening game vanished with the break and from that point on it was Gulf, Gulf and more Gulf.

"I told them after that game that they should just forget about it and that they could not have played any worse," Gulf coach Shari Shau said. "They had nothing to lose. No one in the gym thought we had a chance."

Well, Gulf created several chances and picked up the intensity while the Knights seemed to go into cruise control. Were the two-time district champs starting to think ahead to Friday's final?

"I'm sure it was in the back of their heads," said River Ridge coach Heidi Castelamare. "Perhaps they were looking past Gulf but when you commit so many errors like we did tonight you're not going to have a chance to play in the finals."

Tarpon Springs will play in the finals and a lot of that is due to the presence of sophomore middle hitter Karen Sullivan. The 6-footer, who seldom played in the back row, dominated the front attack in the second game. Sullivan seemed to make every timely kill and every needed block.

"When she's on, Karen can be very dominating," said first-year coach Monica Wilson. "We saw some of that from her tonight."

But as dominant as Sullivan was, the underdog Rams weren't about to wave to white flag. Ridgewood came back from a 12-9 deficit to win the first set 15-13. But all that did was wake up the Spongers.

"That's how we have been all year," said Sullivan. "Sometimes it's like a roller coaster. Up and down."

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