By Chuck Ballaro, Sun Correspondent
CAPE CORAL – Ida Baker High School senior volleyball player Amanda Gross flew home early Monday morning from Alabama after committing to Troy State.
That evening, she carried the Bulldogs on her back, which begged the question: Did she fly home by plane or by cape?
Gross had 30 digs, 19 kills and seven aces as the Bulldogs came from two games down to defeat Port Charlotte 3-2 (19-25, 18-25, 25-13, 25-20, 15-6) in the opening round of the District 7A-10 volleyball tournament Monday at “The Pound.”
For Ida Baker (15-6), it meant a trip to Punta Gorda Tuesday for a date with top-seeded Charlotte.
“We were finally able to do what they’ve been trying to do all year, that’s pull together and work as a team,” head coach Jamie Gross said, also tired as she watched her daughter become the first Cape Coral volleyball player to commit to a Division I program. “We had a lot of people run into each other in the first two games, but they started believing in each other.”
For the Pirates (6-20), it was a horrible ending to a tough, but promising season which saw the team compete with some of the better programs, if just for a while, thanks to the play of two outstanding freshmen.
With the loss of Samantha DiBene late in the season hurt, the Pirates could have used her presence in the middle in those last three games.
Port Charlotte coach Christine Burkhart said it was attitude that cost them.
“I think we became complacent and then just fell flat and we never recovered. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get the energy back,” Burkhart said. “Kiersten (Tisdale) was getting down on herself with mistakes and when your leaders start to fall it’s tough to carry us back.”
Port Charlotte took the first two hard fought games as the breaks went their way. Game two saw six lead changes and eight ties before the Pirates ended the game with a 9-2 run.
But Baker stormed back as the Bulldogs, who were victimized by service errors and bad breaks in the first two games, saw the roles reversed, earning a blowout in game three and a few lucky bounces to win a close fourth game.
Gross was huge in both those games, helping produce long runs as the Pirates had problems handling her serve and handling her kill shots.
The Bulldogs led wire to wire in the fifth game and dominated the deflated Pirates.
Alicia Marzullo had 14 kills for the Bulldogs, Mikaela Monahan had 25 dig, and Sabreena Carey and Caitlyn Monahan had 17 and 20 assists, respectively.
Tisdale overcame headaches to lead the Pirates with 14 kills and 12 digs. Celia Baermann added 10 kills and five blocks, Zoe Burkhart had 12 digs and Mckenzie Stewart had 20 assists.