By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Playing its second match in as many nights on Wednesday, Port Charlotte High School recovered after a tough five-set loss from the night before.
In a match that didn’t count for district-play, the Pirates defeated Lemon Bay 25-13, 25-27, 25-13, 25-21.
“Yesterday was the first match in that rotation,” Burkhart said. “It took them the day to work out the kinks.”
With a depleted squad, missing sophomores Samantha DiBene and Maddie Odenweller, the Pirates looked significantly more comfortable compared to the night before.
Kiersten Tisdale and McKenzie Stewart made big impacts in both matches, but their supporting cast stepped even more in Wednesday’s win.
Tisdale had eight crucial aces, 13 kills and eight digs. Four of those kills came in the final set, including one for the match-sealing point. Stewart had 20 digs and eight kills.
“Since the North Fort Myers game, she’s turned up her game huge,” Burkhart said of Tisdale. “I had a big talk with her on the way over here about communication. When you’re that person that’s putting away all of your kills, you need to turned around and energize your team. I’m proud of her that she did that.”
The Port Charlotte front line made it difficult for Lemon Bay to put away point. Nicole Nava had five blocks, and Kaelyn Griffiths had three. They both had five kills, which seemed to come in clutch situations.
Celia Baermann had a strong match in nearly every phase of the game. She had four blocks, eight kills and nine digs. Three of those digs came late in the fourth set when she was on the serve.
The junior started her serve when the Pirates managed to tie the game at 18-18, and then helped her team to a 4-0 run to give enough of a cushion to close out the match. She also had three of her digs in that sequence, which helped take the pressure of Zoe Burkhart, who seemingly dug everything remotely near her, as she had a team-high 22.
“As far as going back to the service line, she was able to stay in defensively, so she was back serving more,” Burkhart said. “It gave Zoe a break… In that rotation, we like to stay in it at long as we can. It’s difficult when you have your libero out, and it’s difficult when you have your middles go back and play defense. Celia did a nice job in that situation.”
For Lemon Bay, Kacee Nelson was a dig machine, totaling a match-high 25 on the night.
Hannah Krzysiak and Haylee Layne were key in the Manta Rays’ second-set win. Trailing 18-12 at the time, coach Pat Auer called a timeout to settle his team, and they responded very well after that.
“I said we needed a side out,” Auer said. “Sometimes when they have the momentum, you just have to call a timeout to try to freeze them. We got the ball back – and (we) can play. (We) just made too many mistakes tonight.”
Lemon Bay went on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 20-20, and then they tied it again at 22, 23, 24 and 25 before a Nelson ace gave them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Manta Rays were also short-handed on Wednesday, as they were missing arguably their top player in Carolina Hill, who has an ankle injury. According to Auer, Hill was cleared to play, but they decided the smart move was to let her continue to heal before the district tournament next week.
Krzysiak ended the night with 11 kills, and Layne had eight kills with five digs.