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Warhawks stumble over "hump' again

CLASS 5A

With playoff appearances the past four seasons, including two straight district titles, Seminole coach Fran Cosich has turned a run-of-the-mill program into a good one.

But to be mentioned in the same breath as Clearwater and East Lake, Cosich knew her team had to take the next step and beat one of the two when it counted most: the region quarterfinals.

Playing in front of a home crowd with the right to host Saturday's Class 5A-3 Tournament, the Warhawks were trying to knock off defending state finalist East Lake and win their first playoff match.

A tough opponent and history, though, were too much to overcome.

The Eagles, a district runner-up, won 25-23, 25-15, 25-12 and will host the region tourney. They play third-ranked Fort Myers in the semifinals.

"We just can't seem to get over this hump," Cosich said. "We've won districts and all that, but we tend to get frazzled at times once the playoffs start. We need to learn how to get past that."

Things started to unwind for Seminole late in the first game as East Lake pulled away with serving. It continued to work in the final two games, compensating for the Eagles' off-night hitting.

Heather Lange led East Lake (20-4) with six aces. In all, the Eagles had 20, including at least one from each starter.

"For some reason, our serve was really on," coach Terry Small said. "To have 20 of our 75 points come off aces is a pretty good number."

Defensively, East Lake relied on Michelle Ferguson to neutralize the Warhawks' go-to player, junior outside hitter Ashley Martin. Ferguson finished with 17 digs.

"Tonight, I think we played more of our A game," Small said. "We're really coming together, and that's something I've been waiting for all season."

Seminole (12-6) has to wait until next year _ again.

"I'll have five seniors, so hopefully our time will come," Cosich said.

Clearwater advances

When Northeast looks back on Tuesday's regional match against Clearwater, the Vikings might remember the damage done to them at the key moments by Daryl Baby or was that Kristen Fischer okay, that had to be Sarah Sloan, right? Eileen Case?

How about all of them.

Buoyed by the handful of weapons at their disposal, the Tornadoes were able to overcome a brief lapse and pick up a 25-13, 17-25, 25-16, 25-13 victory at Jack Wilson Gymnasium.

Clearwater (22-6) will play top-ranked Venice in a semifinal Saturday.

Upset-minded Northeast (17-5) lost three of its final four matches, including the PCAC title to Clearwater two weeks ago. But the Vikings were swept then. Tuesday, they captured the second game and was looking to win the third when the momentum took a decisive shift.

A kill by Fischer gave Clearwater a 10-9 lead, and Sloan and Case combined for five kills and a block in a 9-1 run that gave the Tornadoes a 23-13 edge en route to a win.

In Game 4, Northeast committed a slew of hitting errors and Fischer and Baby spurred a six-point run that broke a 9-all tie. The Tornadoes enjoyed another six-point streak later, and after Sloan's kill set up match-point, Case finished off the Vikings with a monster blast.

In every game Clearwater won, the score at one point was 9-9. But from that spot on, the Tornadoes outscored Northeast by an average of 16-5.

"We've got to get out of the habit of trading points," Clearwater coach Lynn Hallmark said. "We might just end up digging us a hole we can't get out of. But I was very proud of the girls for doing what they had to do."

_ JOHN COTEY

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