After losing to St. Petersburg for the first time in school history four days ago, Lakewood watched its four-year streak of district titles come to an end. The only thing that could have been more disheartening to the Spratans was knowing who their next opponent would be.
Lakewood had to travel to Countryside High for a regional quarterfinal match against Clearwater, a team the Spartans had never beaten. But after an emotional practice Monday, coach Kaylyn Bayly had her Lakewood players ready.
The result was anything but expected.
The Tornadoes, ranked No. 2 in the state and winners of a school-best 28 straight matches, came close to watching their season end sooner than expected. Twice Lakewood held serve and needed a point to win, but Clearwater managed to rally each time, eventually pulling out a 15-7, 10-15, 18-16 victory and advancing to Friday night's regional final.
"We were embarrassed about the way we played Friday night," Bayly said. "The seniors did not want to go out that way. They wanted to redeem themselves. They fought their hearts out and were determined to win, but that didn't happen."
Afterward, the Tornadoes showed their appreciation for the Spartans effort, gathering in a circle and chanting, "Lakewood, Lakewood." Players from both teams also huddled for pictures.
Down one game, the Spartans went ahead 9-0 in the second game for a lead that was too much to overcome. But no lead was safe in the third game as both teams traded leads four times. The biggest momentum swing came at the end. With Lakewood holding a 16-15 lead and serving for match point, Alex Sevillano had a kill for sideout, then added three more for the win. Sevillano led all players with 21 kills and Monique Marier had 15.
"I think any person has to be nervous in a match like that," Clearwater coach Anne Balderson said. "I was very concerned, but at the same time I know we've been able to pull together in some tough situations before and we did it again tonight."
Class 5A, South II
ST. PETERSBURG _ Pinellas Park coach Hollie Miller was thrilled that her Patriots advanced to the Class 5A semifinals by beating St. Petersburg on Tuesday night.
She wasn't, however, smiling at her team's two-set performance.
"We were slow," she said. "We weren't always together. We didn't play like our normal upbeat selves."
Even so, the Patriots played well enough to slash the Green Devils 15-6, 15-7 on St. Petersburg's home court. Pinellas Park will play Venice on Friday in the regional semifinals. Venice beat Lakeland 15-3, 15-8 on Tuesday.
Pinellas Park opened the first set with verve and barely looked back. After the teams traded consecutive sideouts, Patriots' setter Katie Hoch, a junior, stood behind the service line and launched 10 straight serves that resulted in 10 straight points.
Middle blocker Cassy Kerner had two kills and a block during that stint alone, while on the other side of the net, St. Petersburg's frustration started to show.
"I don't think there were any nerves. I think all the nerves were at Lakewood last week," said Green Devils coach Christen Tonry, referring to the match that gave St. Petersburg its first district volleyball crown.
"We were just outplayed tonight."
The Patriots won the 17-minute first set on another kill by Kerner. She finished in double-digits.
St. Peterburg opened the second set with two sporadic points, but that was as far as the gap ever got. The teams traded leads for the next 20 minutes, as heads-up plays by the Green Devils' Yvonne Pierpont, Laura Fass and Leanne Thalman kept the Green Devils in it.
Pinellas Park eventually out-muscled the Green Devils, though. With the Patriots down 7-6, Kerner peeled of back-to-back kills to take the lead for good. Nine sideouts, several Abby Miner blocks and one point later, junior Sohni Epp reeled off four serves _ including two aces _ to make it 13-7.
The Patriots won it two possessions later when a Green Devil hit the ball into the net.
_ ROBBI PICKERAL
Class 5A, North II
TARPON SPRINGS _ True to form, almost everything was either an ace or an error for the host Spongers Tuesday against Belleview. But despite an inconsistent night at the service line, Tarpon Springs continued its performance as the little team that could, defeating the Rattlers 12-15, 15-11, 15-8 to reach the semifinal of the Class 5A, North II Regional.
"We have a very young team. We were seeded second in districts and everyone picked us to lose," said first-year Spongers coach Monica Wilson. "We're supposed to be enjoying our offseason right now."
Belleview (16-6) didn't take control of the first game until the very end, when sub Milly Santiago served on four straight points to close out the game and put Tarpon Springs on the defensive.
The Spongers (13-12) took a 12-6 lead in the second game behind the serving of Tiffany Shaner and Amy Hoch and dominating play at the net from Karah Sullivan and Meghan Campbell.
The Rattlers chipped away at the lead and drew within 12-11, but Tarpon Springs regained focus and served out the game to even the match.
"Being at home, and being used to three-game (matches), we knew if we kept the momentum up we'd be able to win," Wilson said. "We played sloppily, but we have a lot of desire and a lot of heart."
Aggressive play on serve and at the net was the difference for Tarpon in the deciding game. Senior captain Jenny Shaw served on six consecutive points, including two aces, to put her team up 6-3.
Sullivan and Campbell combined kills with aces to build on the lead, and the Spongers were finally able to celebrate the comeback when Belleview setter Dana Otzel's spike attempt on match point sailed wide.
_ JULIE GOODRICH