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New year, same teams

It was a struggle to get there, but the championship match of the Class 5A, District 9 tournament at Countryside will continue to showcase the same two teams.

Pinellas Park and Clearwater won their semifinals and will meet tonight at 7, the third straight year they have faced off in the final.

The Tornadoes were missing Diana Paulk, Samantha Hawk and Dana Vickery for their match against Dunedin. All were out with injuries, forcing Clearwater to use freshmen Melanie Custer and Katy Barber.

But despite the lineup changes, the Tornadoes went on to a 15-10, 15-7 victory.

Clearwater started strong and jumped ahead 10-2 in the first game. But the Falcons, behind the play of Jill Brun, wouldn't go away and rallied with six straight points to make it 10-8. The Tornadoes, though, regained the momentum and scored five of the next seven points to end the game.

In the second game, Dunedin went ahead 6-5 before Clearwater scored the next eight points.

Monique Marier had six kills, two blocks and five service aces, while Alex Sevillano added eight kills, a block and four aces to lead the Tornadoes.

"Dunedin played a wonderful match," Clearwater coach Anne Balderson said. "We had some injuries, but everyone stepped up and did a great job."

The Patriots received a similar scare against the host Cougars but won 14-16, 15-4, 15-8.

Ahead 14-10 in the first game, Pinellas Park couldn't put it away, allowing Countryside's Tacia Gaines to serve the final six points. But after suffering through bad serves and wide attempts on kills early on, the Patriots corrected their mistakes. Cassey Kerner and Abby Miner each had 12 kills for Pinellas Park.

"We haven't played Countryside this year and I think my players took them for granted," Patriot coach Hollie Miller said. "We were doing a lot of good things, but Countryside played well, too. To lose the first game and have your season on the line was a little too close for comfort. But the girls played with some intensity."