Clearwater Central Catholic coach Bill Warnock believed the difference in Saturday's Class 3A, South II tournament was one thing: experience.
The Marauders, who made the playoffs for the first time this decade, had enough of it to beat host Fort Myers Bishop Verot 15-13, 15-3 in their opening match.
But in the championship match, they met Melbourne Central Catholic, who was accustomed to being in the playoffs. Melbourne displayed its post-season experience and ended CCC's dream season with a 13-15, 15-11, 15-11 victory.
"I knew it was going to be a tough match," Warnock said. "(MCC) has a great team and has been in these types of situations before. We were happy to be here and didn't have a lot of experience in matches like this. But hopefully we gained something out of it."
CCC made it tough early in the championship match.
Down 13-12 in the first game, the Marauders rallied as Diane Chabalik served two points and Christen Lafferty had a kill for the final point.
But CCC couldn't maintain the momentum. The Marauders jumped out to leads twice (6-3 in the second game and 7-5 in the third) but were unable to keep it up.
The loss was tough for the CCC players with the majority of the school dancing the night away at the school's homecoming dance.
"We wanted this for the seniors," Warnock said. "They've been through a lot of adversity. But I'm happy we turned this thing around this year. It was a great season, even though you hate to lose the final one."
Jacksonville Fletcher had one plan of attack against Tarpon Springs in the Class 5A, North I region final.
Don't attack 6-foot middle blocker Karah Sullivan.
The strategy paid off. The Senators downed Tarpon Springs 12-15, 15-6, 15-2 to advance to the final four.
The first game played like Caron thought it might. Fletcher sprinted to a 9-1 lead, getting eight points with Sullivan on the back line. But Sullivan, who finished with eight kills and two blocks, moved to the front, and the Spongers (16-12) rallied to win the game.
But Fletcher rebounded in Game 2, taking an 8-6 lead. Sullivan rotated to the back line, and Fletcher (25-4) took advantage with its own 6-footer, Nell Roland. Roland recoreded a crucial kill and the Senators knotted the match.
"We just had some mental lapses at crucial times," Tarpon Springs coach Monica Wilson Wilson said. "They didn't."
Those crucial errors in Game 2 included seven service errors and three ball-handling errors.
With confidence, Fletcher pressed the Spongers in Game 3, scoring the first eight points and then closing the match with a 7-0 run.
Tarpon Springs advanced to the final with a 15-2, 15-8 rout of Merritt Island.
_ LEE GODDARD
DURANT _ Hitting into Durant's front wall can get pretty frustrating.
Just ask Pinellas Park, which lost 15-10, 15-8 to the towering Cougars on Saturday in the Class 5A, South I Region semifinal.
"Their blocking is so good that it's tough to get around," Pinellas Park coach Annette Coller said. "They are so consistent with their blocks."
That's partly because Durant (27-5 and ranked No. 1) has four players at 5-foot-11 or taller.
"I think it's too bad we had to meet Durant here in the regional," Coller said. "But we had a good season. We improved a lot, and yes, I have to say I'm happy overall with our year."
Pinellas Park ended 23-7 and ranked No. 9 in the state.
Durant, which has never lost a home match in the school's four-year existence, went on to win the regional final against Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas 8-15, 16-14, 15-11.
The Cougars will play in a state semifinal Friday against Gainesville (27-1).
_ SCOTT PURKS
VENICE _ Venice eliminated defending state champion champion Clearwater 15-11, 15-3 Saturday in the Class 5A, South II Region volleyball semifinals.
Kristen Batt had 15 kills to lead the Indians (26-6) to the regional final against South Plantation, which advanced by defeating Cypress Lake 15-17, 15-9, 15-12 in the other regional semifinal.
The Tornadoes (23-5) led the first game 11-10. But Venice's Batt, a powerful 6-foot-1 outside hitter, served out to seal the win.
Once the momentum shifted in the second game, it was all Venice.
Clearwater took a 2-0 lead, but Venice reeled off eight consecutive points on the strength off three Batten kills.
Clearwater managed just one more point in the match on a Venice violation.
"The other team outplayed us," coach Keith Paulk said. "This is a hard gym that's hard to win on. The crowd is doing funny things, and they make the other team feel the momentum shifts. A lot of teams would kill to have 23 wins.
"The first game could have gone either way. But we didn't get enough swings for Alex (Sevillano) when she was in the first row,"said Paulk.
"I thought we played a great match," Venice coach Brian Wheatley said. "We executed our game plan. Our main focus was to shut down Alex and let the other five girls try to beat us."
Clearwater knocked Venice out of the playoffs the past two years.
_ SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
PALM HARBOR _ Different year, same result.
That was the story for Palm Harbor University on Saturday in the Class 4A, South II regional semifinals against Winter Haven.
Although the host Hurricanes rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second game, they couldn't come all the way back as the Blue Devils knocked PHU from the playoffs for the second consecutive year with a 15-8, 16-14 win.
The Hurricanes (19-12) looked lost in the first game, making mental errors and hitting several balls into the net as Winter Haven built an 11-5 lead that it never relinquished.
"We were flat," said senior captain Jennifer Dull, who led her team with eight kills. "We forgot who was next to us, where we were playing in our formations. We always start slow and have to pick it up."
The Blue Devils' 10-0 run to open the second game got PHU's attention. Coach Karen Kreger changed her strategy by using different formations, a move that got immediate results as PHU chipped away at the lead.
"We changed a player or two on the front row to get some bigger blocks," Kreger said. "Once we started believing in ourselves, we started to fight back."
Trailing 11-5, the Hurricanes scored five points in a row behind the serving of Beth Dull. Winter Haven worked its way to match point at 14-11, but PHU tied it up on a block and a kill by Beth Dull and a kill by Rebecca Paulson.
The Blue Devils went up 15-14 when PHU was called for a carry and closed out the match on a kill by Tiffany Tolleson.
Winter Haven lost to 16-time state champion Cardinal Gibbons 15-6, 15-1 in the final.
_ JULIE GOODRICH
FORT PIERCE _ Northside Christian fell a match short of the Class 2A Final Four, losing to Miami-Dade Christian, 15-13, 15-13, in Saturday's South I Region action.
The Mustings (19-10) rallied from deficits in both games in a match that lasted nearly 90 minutes.
Dade (20-5) took the first game as Northside lost serve when Melissa Mathews' return hit the net and, on Dade's service, Sarah Lauer mishit a pass.
The Mustangs held a 13-11 lead in the second game after Heather Hartz smashed a return into the Crusaders' middle.
Dade got the serve back on a point from Holly Pringle. Pringle then served and fired an ace to close the game at 12-13. Kristen Flood tipped in a return to tie the score at 13.
The teams traded serve, and Dade won the match when Valerie DiStefano nailed a return in the corner of the court.
The Mustangs defeated Fort Pierce-John Carroll, 15-3, 15-12, in the semifinal before playing Dade. Carroll had beaten Northside earlier this season when the Mustangs were ranked No. 1.
_ DAVID WHITEHEAD
East Lake fell to Stuart Martin County 15-7, 15-4 in the Class 6A, North II regional semifinal. Orlando Dr. Phillips won the region by defeating Stuart 15-9, 15-11.
_ STEVE BRANNAN