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Panthers take Wharton to school

The Wharton Wildcats hadn't played Plant this season, but they had heard stories.

Those stories became a reality about three points into the Panthers' 25-13, 25-9, 25-11 Class 5A victory.

Until then, Wharton (12-8) held out hope as it generated a short-lived lead with an Alex Rotenstem ace and a Mina Folks stuff block. Defending state champion Plant (23-3) took control and ended the match within an hour.

The Wildcats seemed flustered, sometimes awe-struck, by some of Plant's routine plays. The Panthers' Sarah Kirkwood reeled off seven aces with the help of her jump serve, Claire Crumpton, Lauren Taylor and Maggie Ramm each recorded five kills, and Taylor Russo had 25 assists.

"All I expected (the Wildcats) to do was play hard," Wharton coach Sheri Loverette said, pointing out that half of her lineup is sophomores, the other half seniors.

Coach Kimi Hellenberg said her Panthers made uncharacteristic mistakes and were sloppy at times. Plant will play at Mitchell in a semifinal Saturday.

GAITHER FIGHTS BACK: Gaither found itself in a position in Tampa it hadn't been in all season. The one-loss Cowboys were eye-to-eye with a 2-0 deficit and their season at stake. But Gaither stared down Brandon, subduing a ferocious Eagles comeback in the fifth game to win 21-25, 21-25, 25-11, 25-14, 15-13.

"That's never happened to us before," senior Katie Anderson said. "We've never lost the first two games."

Anderson advanced the Cowboys to the region semifinals with a beautiful dink. Brandon (15-11) rallied from an 11-3 hole in the decisive game to come within a point of Gaither at 14-13. Anderson lifted the Cowboys (15-1) out of their hole by blasting 17 kills, but the last one was a stroke of genius. She dropped the ball over two defenders and the ball bounced off another Eagle to end Brandon's season.

The Eagles preyed on Gaither's mistakes in the first two sets with Erin Decker (12 kills and three aces) feeding off Catlin Whale's 23 assists. The momentum turned as Anderson ticked off three of Gaither's first four points in the third set as the Cowboys corralled a 7-1 lead. After Brandon closed to 11-7, Sheri VanBebber reeled off three straight aces in the middle of a 6-0 run to put the Eagles out of reach.

Gaither moves on to play River Ridge at Mitchell on Saturday in the region semifinal.

_ ANTHONY GAGLIANO

6A: Durant rolls

DURANT _ For most of the season, the third game has been a killer for Durant.

But in Game 3 against Cypress Creek, outside hitter Brittany Eukovich pulled the Cougars from behind to register a 25-10, 25-12, 25-19 win over the Bears.

Eukovich, a senior, had four consecutive kills to help Durant overcome a four-point deficit in the final game and put her team out front to stay. Overall, she led all players with 10 kills and had seven service points, including three aces.

"We just became overconfident in the third game tonight, so coach (Teri) Ohme called timeout for us to talk about it," Eukovich said.

Samantha Sarff played tough from the service line for the Cougars. With Durant leading 15-12 in Game 2, the sophomore middle blocker served out the game with 10 consecutive points.

Durant hosts the semifinals and final Saturday.

4A: Armwood falls

BRANDON _ Armwood seemed to have everything working, as the Hawks owned a 2-0 lead in their match with Winter Haven.

Armwood was playing on its court against a sub-.500 team in the regular season. All the Hawks needed was to win one more game and they would advance.

That win never came.

The Blue Devils rallied from 11-25, 18-25 losses to record 25-15, 27-25, 15-11 victories and take the quarterfinal.

While the Blue Devils were adjusting, the Hawks had no answers for Laqwesha Gamble. After misfiring on several spikes in the first two games, she found her touch. Gamble registered 30 kills, 21 in the final three games.

The Hawks appeared to be on cruise control after handily producing two straight wins. But Winter Haven jumped out to a 5-0 advantage in the third game with three Gamble kills. Armwood got within 17-13, but an 8-2 Blue Devils run cut the Hawks' lead in the match to 2-1.

Armwood was on top 11-8, 15-11 and 24-22 in Game 4, but Winter Haven would not go away.

Winter Haven seized control with a 4-0 run midway through Game 5.

_ BRANDON WRIGHT

TBT TUMBLED: After battling in a tough four-game loss to Armwood in the district final, Tampa Bay Tech again fell short Tuesday. The Titans lost to Auburndale 25-18, 25-23, 25-23. The Titans finished their season 9-7.

_ BRANDON WRIGHT, TIMES STAFF

3A: AHN wins

TAMPA _ Academy of the Holy Names advanced Tuesday, turning back Frostproof 25-7, 25-9, 25-12.

The Jaguars used an array of kills and blocks to lead the whole night. The only time Frostproof led a game was at 3-2 in the third.

AHN 5-foot-10 senior Jessica Hudock and 6-1 junior Delie Marsonek repeatedly blocked shots, and Hudock was especially effective with 16 kills.

"We did what we had to do tonight to get us ready for the next level," Hudock said.

They will get that opportunity Saturday as they travel to the winner of the Fort Myers Bishop Verot-West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman match.

Seizing early leads in each of the games, AHN settled the match in less than an hour.

_ JIM REESE

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