By Chuck Ballaro, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — When it looked as though Charlotte’s volleyball team was on the verge of collapsing Friday evening, Michelle Bunch came up big.
Bunch made some key kills in the fourth game after Osceola staved off a match point to win the previous game to help the Tarpons eliminate the Warriors for the second straight year in the Region 3A-3 semifinals with a 3-1 (25-23, 25-16, 24-26, 25-19) victory at the Wally Keller gymnasium. Charlotte (25-3) visits Barron Collier on Tuesday for its second straight trip to the regional finals.
Bunch had 19 kills to lead Charlotte, many of them coming when the Tarpons needed them most. She said the team regained its edge after losing the third set.
“Losing irks us because it doesn’t happen a lot. We got fired up and did well,” Bunch said. “I’m proud we pushed through the way we did and losing the game pulled us back in and got us straight.”
Osceola coach Kacee Crumpacker was happy with the way her team fought and executed the game plan. Charlotte was just a little better.
“All the things we talked about doing we did. We just struggled in tip coverage. We didn’t get to a couple of balls,” Crumpacker said. “It could’ve gone either way. A few breaks here and there and we’re the winners.”
It could have been much different. Charlotte led for much of the first set, yet trailed 23-22 late before rallying for three straight points and the win.
The Tarpons cruised in the second game thanks to Caitlin Giacalone and Skylar Gribben serving up long runs, but the Warriors continued to fight in the third game, grabbing a quick 6-0 lead in a set where even coach Michelle Dill made mistakes.
Charlotte pecked away to take a 24-23 lead and force match point, but like Charlotte did in the first set, Osceola served out the last three points to win.
“We started off a little weak and I made an error with the substitution. We got down 6-0 and had to work our way back. We were playing point by point, not thinking of pushing harder,” Dill said.
Osceola battled in the final set, leading 13-12 before Kaylee Brannon and Gribben served the Tarpons into the lead for good as Bunch became the go-to person at the net, making huge kills.
Emily Vaughn and Shelby Beisner had 14 kills for Charlotte. Jessica Moore had 55 assists and 27 digs while Giacalone has 23 digs.
“We played strong the first two games then relaxed a little. We took off some plays. We fought in the end and finished them off,’ Beisner said. “Osceola has come back a lot in games this season and we didn’t want to lose in our house. The goal was to finish and get to the finals.”
It will be the first time in three years the Tarpons have faced the Cougars. Dill said she will look at the tape and talk to some coaches to see what they’re up against.
“We were hoping for Fort Myers because we know them well,” Beisner said. “But Barron will be a great match competition because we haven’t seen them and they haven’t seen us so we’re hoping for a positive outcome.”