By: J. Daniel Pearson for Positively Osceola
One week after winning their respective district championships, the Gateway Panthers and Osceola Kowboys will be moving on the state playoffs following five-set wins in regional quarterfinal girls volleyball action on Wednesday night.
Osceola, 22-6 and the number two seed in Class 7A, Region 2, won its first two sets against cross-town rival Tohopekaliga but then fell into a funk and dropped the next two sets before prevailing 25-19, 25-12, 20-25, 18-25 and 15-0.
“We tend to get a little bit complacent when we are playing teams we feel we should beat and to some extent I think that happened tonight – especially after we took the first two sets.” Osceola coach Carrie Palmi said. “But that doesn’t take anything away from the effort Tohopekaliga gave. This time of year you have to understand that you are going everyone’s best game and we got that tonight from Tohopekaliga. Their seniors were ready to battle tonight and I thought their coaching staff made some great adjustments against us in the third and fourth games.”
Still, the Lady Kowboys – winners of four in a row and 11 of their last 12 matches—were not about to let the season slip away. In a rare shutout, they dominated the fifth set from the beginning and recorded the first 15-0 score since Palmi’s coaching career. “I thought we just went through the motions in the third set and unfortunately it carried over to the fourth,” Palmi said. “But our kids got together on the sideline after that game and just basically said this was not how our season was going to end. I was really amazed at the determination and hustle we displayed in that final set.”
At the end of the day, the Kowboys were led by normal group of standout players. Cate Palmi (28 kills, 13 digs, 3 blocks) and Jordin Southall (16 kills, 15 digs) led Osceola offensively; while senior Alex Ligeri had 51 assists and 10 digs.
The fifth set at Osceola was in stark contrast to the deciding set at Gateway, where the Panthers had to fight one a match point before prevailing in come-from-behind fashion 25-16, 21-25, 16-25, 25-17 and 19-17 in the Class 5A, Region 2 quarterfinal.
“At the end of the day, I think we just wanted it a little more than they did,” Gateway coach Jareliz Hernandez said. “Ivana (Reyes) was dominant all night but really turned it up in that fifth set. She was a real key to the victory,”
With the Panthers trailing 16-15 in the “Race to 15” deciding set, junior Kailyn Paulino kept the match alive with a big kill from the left side to tie the match. Two long rallies, that featured some spectacular saves on both sides, would ensure and Reyes would end both rallies with spikes as the Panthers prevailed.
Gateway appeared to be the better side from the beginning, cruising to an easy nine-point win in the first set. But the Scorpions quickly righted the ship and put Gateway on the defensive with wins in the second and third games. The teams were tied 5-5 in the fourth set, before the Panthers went on a 8-0 run to open up a 13-5 lead and cruising to a win to force a deciding set.
Reyes led the way for the Panthers with 19 kills but several other Panthers had standout games. Paulino finished with 12 kills, Aniyah Radcliff had seven and Libero Amanda Cruz had three service aces and led the team in digs. Satellite was led by Ava Bray with 12 kills and two blocks; McKenna Burr eight kills, five blocks and four aces.
Gateway (18-8), who was seeded lower than Satellite but got a home game because of its district championship, now travels to top-seeded Merritt Island (21-6) on Saturday. Osceola, will attempt to advance to their second consecutive regional final, when they host Olympia (22-6) on Saturday.