Clearwater Central Catholic spent the first two games of Friday's Class 3A state semifinal against Gainesville St. Francis Catholic trying to settle down.
The atmosphere of a state tournament, coupled with the Wolves' maddening ability to keep points alive, gave the Marauders fits.
Trailing 2-0 at Silver Spurs Arena, CCC (23-8) finally calmed down and won the next two games. But the comeback fell five points short. The Marauders, playing in their first state semifinal since 1989, lost 25-23, 25-19, 23-25, 21-25, 15-10.
St. Francis (27-4) is trying to win the school's first state title.
"I think in the beginning our nerves got to us and it showed," senior setter Casey Moore said. "That was a factor, and St. Francis was very consistent. They did a very good job of extending plays. I'm proud of our effort, but in the end it wasn't enough to get the win."
The Marauders' biggest deficit in the first game was 10-4, but they managed to fight their way back thanks to the net play of Shea Hamilton, Katie Moore and Rachel Odell. CCC tied the score at 22 on an ace by Alyssa Rodriguez. The Wolves scored three of the next four points and ended the game on two straight kills by Kathryn Herrington.
The second game looked much more promising for the Marauders. CCC jumped out to a 7-1 lead behind kills from Katie Moore and Odell. Then St. Francis got rolling. The Wolves went on a 12-2 run and took a 13-9 lead. Allison Benton, who had a game-high 27 kills, had four kills during the run.
CCC kept it close but never came back, losing 25-23.
Down by two games, CCC decided on a new strategy.
"I think we just got the feeling that we had nothing to lose," Casey Moore said. "We wanted to come out swinging."
Early on, that's exactly what they didn't do. St. Francis took a 7-1 lead and looked like it was going to sweep. But the Marauders went on a 9-1 run and grabbed a 10-9 lead. The Wolves had one more run in the third when they led 15-11, but CCC fought back to tie 22-22. Odell and Hamilton closed out the game with consecutive kills.
CCC never trailed in the fourth game, though the Wolves did tie it at 17-17. But St. Francis errors and more net play from Sara Brown and Katie Moore closed it out and forced a fifth game.
With the score tied 7-7, St. Francis went on a 5-2 run, then scored the final three points on kills by Benton and Farah Rajaee and a spike into the net by Odell to win the match.
Hamilton led CCC with 16 kills. Katie Moore added 13 and nine blocks. Rachel Miller had 25 digs, and Casey Moore had 41 assists. CCC had 108 digs in the match to St. Francis' 102.
"Katie Moore was dominant on the left side," St. Francis coach Nick Cheronis said. "It was very difficult for us to get a ball past her."
CCC coach Stephen Shepherd said the Wolves were a formidable opponent.
"I thought we played a pretty good game effort wise, we just didn't execute enough to win," he said. "St. Francis extended plays a lot longer than we're used to and that allowed us to make some errors. I thought that was the difference."
Despite the loss, the Marauders were proud of their effort.
"Everybody left everything on the court," Miller said. "It's just that some things weren't clicking today. Things weren't going our way. It happens sometimes."