SEMINOLE — Wednesday night’s opening semifinal match of the Class 7A District 9 tournament came down to who wanted it more.
In the end, Seminole was that team.
The host Warhawks came from behind to edge East Lake 3-2 in a back-and-forth contest that looked to be slipping away.
“The mental part was bigger than anything,” Seminole coach Dexter Rogers said of his girls playing East Lake, a team they beat once earlier this month for the first time in years. “The physical part was there, but the mental part was huge.”
After gaining a 2-games-to-1 advantage, the third-seeded Eagles jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead in the fourth. But the Warhawks slowly climbed back and took the lead for good when Ashley Hughes and Kona Peterson combined for a block that put Seminole ahead 15-14. The Warhawks would never trail again for the rest of the night, pulling out the fourth set, 25-21, and then the fifth, 15-10.
Racing out to a 9-2 lead in the final game helped set the tone for the eventual on-court celebration, said senior libero Alia Davis. “I thought we had really great service. They really focused and that’s crucial. It added a lot of momentum.”
The Warhawks were led at the net by Samantha Schlesman (17 kills and five blocks), Hughes (11 kills and five blocks) and Amanda Mitchell (8 kills).
Seminole is now guaranteed its eighth trip to regionals, all coming since the 2000-01 school year. The Warhawks will be attempting to pick up their first-ever postseason win.
Before that region quarterfinal match on Tuesday, though, Seminole will square off with top-seeded Clearwater tomorrow night for the district championship.
The Tornadoes dispatched in-town rival Countryside with relative ease, sweeping their way to a 3-0 victory. A lethargic start allowed the Cougars to stay close in the first game, but Samantha Reeves and Clearwater were too much. Reeves, the Tornadoes’ 6-foot-2 senior middle, turned in another impressive performance, elevating and pounding balls to the floor all night.
“Sam was great,” said Clearwater coach Kara Betourne. “To get those big hits, though, she gets awesome passes. Caitlin Stoner and Allie Russell produce great passes so Sam can hit those balls.”
Reeves received plenty of help from Maddie Rubino and Ciara Lusnia as Clearwater goes for its third straight district title.
The Tornadoes beat Seminole in the teams’ lone meeting this season, 3-1, and also took out the Warhawks for a league title in 2011. Wednesday’s win over Countryside sends Clearwater to the postseason for the 29th time in program history.
EL - 25 – 21 – 25 – 21 – 10 --- 2
Sem - 18 – 25 – 22 – 25 – 15 --- 3
CS - 18 – 7 – 16 --- 0
CW - 25 – 25 – 25 --- 3