By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — Michelle Bunch takes pride in energizing her team, and when Charlotte High School lacked the energy early in Tuesday’s District 7A-10 semifinals, she was there to provide a boost.
The top-seeded Tarpons went on to cruise to a victory over No. 4 Ida Baker 25-12, 25-12, 25-16, to set up a championship match against North Fort Myers on Thursday, and an automatic qualification for the regional tournament.
Ida Baker (15-7) took advantage of some Charlotte (22-3) nerves early in the first set, as they jumped out a 4-0 lead right away, but it was all Tarpons from there on out. Bunch had four crucial kills to regain the momentum and settle down her team in that first set, and then a key block to bring back the energy.
“I try to hype our team and really be the loud person on the court,” Bunch said. “I try to just encourage everyone. It’s been a big thing for me since I started playing.”
After the momentary slow start for Charlotte, they went on to out-score the Bulldogs 50-20 over the next two sets.
“Coming into the match, I know they were maybe a little nervous, and they knew they already beat this team in three sets,” coach Michelle Dill said. “Michelle getting those kills really pumped them up and got them going.”
Bunch was consistent throughout the night, ending the match with a team-high 13 kills, but it was her first-set contributions which were the most meaningful.
“Ever since last week she has really turned it on,” Dill said. “We’ve been running some different sets with her, and she’s really picked it up, and realized when she runs quicker sets she can get some kills off of it. She’s having fun.”
Emily Vaughn had three consecutive kills in the second game to give the Tarpons a 4-2 lead, and set the tone early. The lefty ended the night with nine kills, as did Shelby Beisner, who took turns sending nonreturnable strikes at the Bulldogs
By the time Charlotte took a 12-5 lead in the second set, Ida Baker appeared completely demoralized, and it was just a matter of time until the Tarpons finished them off.
The offense ran through Jessica Moore in the win, as it typically does, but the senior was all over the court Tuesday night to consistently set up her teammates for kills. She ended the night with 31 assists.
“It’s very important to have her on the court,” Dill said. “They’re all pretty much used to each other now, and know what they want to run and what kind of assists they like. She knows who’s on the court, and who to move the ball to.”
Other main contributors for the Tarpons included Kaylee Brannon and Skylar Gribben, who had 12 and 11 digs, respectively. On Gribben’s serve in the third set, Charlotte went on a 12-0 run to jump out to a 16-3 lead.
With the win, Charlotte will host the Red Knights Thursday at 7 p.m. Dill has identified the keys to victory for the Tarpons, and says services, and playing a fast offense within their system will help lead to a win.
Charlotte swept North Fort Myers in its regular-season meeting 25-11, 25-10. 25-17.