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Northside Christian tests state-ranked Clearwater Central Catholic

The Marauders need five sets to prevail while Calvary Christian sweeps Indian Rocks Christian.

ST. PETERSBURG — Because of the new rankings system to determine region playoff teams, Clearwater Central Catholic’s spot in the Class 3A tournament is already secured. But that didn’t make them immune from pressure in Tuesday night’s District 6 semifinal match against Northside Christian.

CCC, the second seed in the district tournament, was pushed to the brink by the third-seeded Mustangs before pulling out a 25-19, 25-16, 23-25, 25-27, 15-9 win. The Marauders overcame 19 service errors and 26 hitting errors to improve to 22-4.

“We definitely have to play better,” CCC sophomore setter Victoria Hensley said. “We have to pick it up if we want to beat Calvary.”

Calvary Christian, the top seed, did not have as much trouble with fourth seed Indian Rocks Christian in the second semifinal. The Warriors won 25-16, 25-14, 25-23 over the Golden Eagles.

Related: RELATED: Bloomingdale serves notice in district volleyball semifinals

That sets up a match between the top two seeds on Thursday night at Northside Christian. The winner will likely have home-court advantage through most of the region tournament.

Northside Christian's Lexie Alstott (6) sets up the ball during Thursday's match against Clearwater Central Catholic. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]

The Marauders, who are ranked fifth in the state by MaxPreps, looked as if they would sweep past the Mustangs. They fell behind in the first set, then rattled off eight straight points to take a 10-4 lead. They were never really threatened from there and put the set away on a kill by Kylie White.

The second set was about the same. It was close early, but CCC had a few streaks midway through and were never really challenged. But Northside Christian was not going to mail it in.

“After the second game, I told the girls that we did not put in the time and effort in to play them to just go down 2-0 and go home," Northside Christian coach Whitney Elam said. “So let the work show itself. Our seniors showed heart, which is what you want at this time of the season."

Related: RELATED: CCC stays on top of final volleyball rankings

The Mustangs (17-9) held an early lead and didn’t let it go in the third. They grabbed a 17-12 lead after two CCC mistakes. It was 24-20 after an ace by Emilia Harding. Three points later, an errant kill attempt ended the set.

In the fourth, the match was tied four times late. Northside Christian took a 25-24 lead when Julianna Flack recorded a kill. A Kasey Singer kill made it 25-25. The Mustangs then got the final two points on a tip by Harding and an errant spike.

The hopes of an upset faded in the fifth set. CCC took a 12-5 lead and held on to put the match away.

“I guess it’s better to have a night like this now instead of on Thursday night," CCC coach Stephen Shepherd said. “We do this on Thursday then we’re going to lose."

Clearwater Central Catholic's Kasey Singer (4) keeps the ball in play vs. Northside Christian. [MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times]

Calvary Christian (23-2 and ranked eighth in the state) opened up big leads in the first two sets behind the net play of Cathryn Long and Ana Volini. Things were much closer in the third set. Indian Rocks Christian (16-7) got big points from Jewel Lester and Mia Burris, and hung around the entire set.

It was tied at 23, but two kills from Long put an end to the set and the match.

“For the most part I think we’re in a good place," Calvary Christian coach Kim Whitney said. “It’s a tough district, a tough class. But it’s anyone’s game at this point."

Just because Northside Christian lost in the semifinal does not mean its season is over. Elam said her team is ranked eighth in Class 3A, which puts them on the bubble for a region berth.

“I told the girls that we had practice tomorrow," Elam said. “They looked at me funny. But until we’re officially out we’re going to keep practicing."