TAMPA — Freedom wasted little time putting Wiregrass Ranch on its heels Tuesday night, scoring the first 12 points.
Then it knocked the Bulls on their backs. Finally, it made sure they stayed right there.
From start to finish, the Patriots were in control, winning the Class 7A, District 9 semifinal 25-16, 28-26, 22-25, 25-17 at Gaither.
Freedom lost both matches against the Bulls this season, but rode the efforts of big-hitting high-flying Jasmyn Perry into the championship match for the third straight season.
“It’s always a tough battle against Wiregrass, even in the losses,” Freedom coach Kerry Short said. “But I figured if we came out strong and got the first few matches, we could finish them off.”
Freedom (16-10) probably finished the Bulls off in the second set. The Patriots trailed most of the second against a resilient Bulls squad.
Freedom rallied from a 22-20 deficit to tie. An errant ball redirected off a pipe and back past the pursuing Patriots to put the Bulls back ahead 23-22. And the Patriots survived a pair of match-point leads of 24-23 and 25-24 before Perry’s kill set up a match point that Wiregrass Ranch hit into the net.
Even a third-set win by the Bulls (17-6) wasn’t enough to reverse Freedom’s momentum.
Perry took over the final set. She had five kills in the first 10 points, and even when she made a mistake — passing too close to the net — the ball managed to trickle over and tie up the Bulls.
She finished with 21 kills.
“She was on fire, I’m not going to tell you any different,” Wiregrass Ranch coach Melinda Kantor said. “She single-handedly won them their games, there’s no doubt about that.”
Wilson added nine kills for the Patriots, who will meet Steinbrenner, a 25-17, 25-14, 25-11 winner over Chamberlain, in the championship Thursday.
While Freedom has clinched its third straight postseason berth, it has never won a district title. Steinbrenner, which swept Freedom in a match earlier this season, is going for a third straight title.
4A-9: Tampa Catholic changes fate vs. Holy Names
TAMPA — Trailing by two points midway through the final game Tuesday, Tampa Catholic was on the verge of another crushing postseason loss to Academy of the Holy Names.
Sensing the change in momentum, Crusaders coach John Babbitt called a time out and settled down his young team. With the season seemingly slipping away, Tampa Catholic finally turned the tables on its crosstown rival.
Abby Zimroth led the Crusaders with 21 kills and her older sister, Elizabeth, scored the match-winning point in a 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 21-25, 15-13 victory over Holy Names in the semifinals of the Class 4A-9 tournament.
“This was what we wanted at the beginning of the season,” Babbitt said. “Every time we play them it’s to the limit.”
Sydney Blank added 16 kills, Tyler Sroufe had 14 and Abby Zimroth and Julia Walsh each chipped in with five aces for the Crusaders (15-7), who snapped a four-game losing streak to Holy Names and avenged a regular-season loss on Oct. 10.
The Crusaders’ run of futility went much deeper than mere numbers, as Holy Names had eliminated them from the postseason in consecutive years and in three of the past five seasons. Included in that stretch was last year’s five-game loss decided by only three points.
But on Holy Names’ home floor, Tampa Catholic pulled out the sort of win that had eluded it in previous seasons.
After losing the first game, the Crusaders twice made late runs — 4-1 and 3-0 — in the next two games to pull out 25-23 wins.
Holy Names (15-12) controlled the fourth game, even taking an 18-11 lead that was the largest at any point in the closely contested match.
That set up another dramatic finish, with the teams trading points until Holy Names went up 8-6 on a kill by Lily Veith.
The gym started getting loud again, the momentum seemed to be shifting toward the home team and Babbitt calmly asked for a time out.
“We just made sure to tell each other to keep our heads in the game,” Blank said.
After the break, Tampa Catholic got contributions from all over their roster: kills by Zimroth, Blank and Sroufe, a point from Rebecca Turbeville and a stout defense that thwarted several kill attempts by Holy Names’ 6-foot-2 sophomore Courtney Vogler.
The Crusaders move on to face Berkeley Prep, three-time defending Class 4A champion, Thursday night. Tampa Catholic has not beaten the top-seeded Bucs in more than a half-dozen years and won only one game over that time.
In the first semifinal, top-seeded Berkeley Prep rolled to victory over Sarasota Booker. The Bucs won 25-5, 25-17, 25-10 without playing star junior outside hitter Sidney Brown and a number of other starters.
5A-11: Delay doesn’t deter Longhorns
RIVERVIEW — Lennard will face top-seeded Robinson in the Class 5A-11 district championship Thursday, but the Longhorns almost didn’t make it there.
The bus scheduled to take the Longhorns to Spoto High School never arrived, and the team scrambled to take cars to the district tournament. They arrived more than 30 minutes late, but were able to sweep Blake 25-11, 25-21, 25-10.
“We had that adrenaline rush, and everyone got in here and was ready to play,” Lennard coach Elise Garza said. “Coming together like that, it was a big difference for us throughout the whole game.”
The Longhorns never gave up the lead, powered by Naomi Armstrong who had 10 kills, five blocks and added a dig. She was the favorite target of Ashlyn Pavlock, who had six assists, adding to the three from Jasmin Espinoza.
Blake, which came in as the second seed, surged in the second game, coming back from a nine-point deficit more than once, pulling to within 23-20. But Pavlock got the better of Blake, setting up Daniela Trujillo to complete the win.
In the nightcap, Lauren Peterson and Alexandria Gaertner combined for 19 kills while Kylee Gorungpratum chipped in 11 assists as Robinson stopped Middleton 25-11, 25-9, 25-14.
Quinadra Williams had eight digs for the Tigers who never found their rhythm against the district’s top seed.
District volleyball Hot Shots
Katie Krueger, Tampa Prep: The Terrapins’ 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter had 27 kills, eight digs and five blocks in her team’s five-game triumph against Bishop McLaughlin. Sophomore teammate Corey Perkins added 18 kills.
Kelly Drake, Plant City: The Raiders’ junior setter had 24 assists in her team’s playoff-clinching victory against Hillsborough, a team that defeated them in four games less than two weeks ago. Teammates Danielle Rodriguez and Alex Arnold added 14 digs and 14 kills, respectively.
Gabby Laloma, Seffner Christian: The Crusaders’ junior setter had 40 assists in her team’s exhilarating four-game triumph against Carrollwood Day. Sophomore teammate Ally Parimore had 28 kills.
Megan Taris, Sickles: The Gryphons’ senior outside hitter had eight kills and 13 digs against King. Teammate Ava Lombardi (seven kills, 11 digs) nearly matched her.
Nadia Hall, Bayshore Christian: The Faith Warriors’ sophomore setter had 31 assists, two aces and 17 digs in her team’s victory against Academy at the Lakes.
Marie Kelly, Bayshore Christian: The Warriors’ 5-7 sophomore tallied 16 kills and 16 digs against AATL.
Shelby Akos, Riverview: According to coach Kristin Grosso, this 6-3 freshman was among a constellation of Sharks standouts (three blocks, two block assists, seven kills) in their win against East Bay.
Grace Nelson, Cambridge Christian: The Lancers freshman had eight kills and four blocks against Hernando Christian. Senior teammate Katie Ingalls added seven kills and four aces.
A best-of-seven series
When Cambridge Christian and Bayshore Christian square off for the 2A-8 title Thursday, it will be the teams’ seventh meeting since the start of the 2011 season. They split four matches last season, with Cambridge winning the district final before the Faith Warriors prevailed in the second round of the playoffs. This season, the Lancers won in five games in mid-September, but lost in three to Bayshore two weeks ago.
By the numbers
31 Assists by Sickles senior captain Carlye Owens in the Gryphons’ three-game victory against King
25 Total digs tallied by Riverview’s Kate Ellis (13) and Meagan Letcher (12) in the Sharks’ victory against East Bay
14 Cambridge Christian players who got on the floor against Hernando Christian. Which is to say, coach Dave Wolcott emptied his bench
“They have a tendency to be up and down and up and down. We kind of expected it, but at this point we were hoping we’d be past that.” — Tampa Prep first-year coach Andrew Wilson, whose team features only two seniors
“We have a team full of kids with colds and wisdom-teeth problems, so we just kind of hit a bump in the road, but we overcame.” — Bayshore Christian coach Melanie Humenansky, after her team’s four-game win against Hernando Christian
“For our team to rally behind (adversity), that’s huge for our program.” — Seffner Christian coach Craig Collins, whose team was playing without 6-3 sophomore Damali Mills (torn ACL, MCL)
Staff writers Joel Anderson and Joey Knight and correspondent Michael Hinman contributed to this report.