By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — Thursday’s match between North Port and Lemon Bay was so tight that their tiebreaker set almost needed its own tiebreaker.
With the Bobcats on the ropes of losing their season-opener and the Manta Rays on the verge of winning their third match in as many nights, the fifth set turned in the visitor’s favor thanks to a few unforced errors.
North Port scored eight of the final nine points and closed the tiebreaker on a 5-0 run to defeat Lemon Bay, 3-2 (14-25, 25-15, 25-18, 15-25, 15-13). Momentum in the five-set match swung back and forth all night, evident by the various runs and scores put up by each team, but the Bobcats pulled through in the clutch as Chassity Taylor won her coaching debut.
“They’re trying to give me grey hairs. That’s what they were doing,” Taylor said.
Three straight North Port errors in the tiebreaker allowed Lemon Bay to go up 12-7 before things turned in the Bobcats’ favor. The Manta Rays (2-1) responded by giving the Bobcats (1-0) three straight points on poor ball placement and a violation, and although a North Port shot into the net returned serve to Lemon Bay, the Bobcats suddenly had momentum.
A Lemon Bay shot into the net and another short of the net brought North Port within 13-12. Lindsey Matthews then delivered a kill to tie the set before another Lemon Bay error finally put North Port in front.
With North Port facing match point, Lemon Bay outside hitter Caroline Hill fired a shot in an attempt to tie the set but found the net instead, finishing off the season-opening win for the Bobcats.
“It was like a rollercoaster. I knew we could do it…we just had to push through in the clutch situations and luckily we did,” said North Port outside hitter Alexis Francavilla, who led North Port with 13 kills.
Francavilla, who also had two aces, was instrumental in turning the match around for North Port. Lemon Bay was dominant in the opening frame, but North Port turned the tables in the second as Francavilla collected five of her kills to help her squad even the match.
The senior was big again in the third, spiking four more kills and delivering a block for another point to put the Bobcats up a set. Just like that, North Port looked like a different team.
“To be honest, I don’t know what it was (in the first set). I think it was just jitters,” Taylor said. “I mean, that was not my team, but they came out and they pulled through and did what they had to do.”
But the Manta Rays weren’t going down without a fight, largely in part to Hannah Krzysiak. The outsider hitter had three aces and a kill in the fourth frame before finishing it off with a block to send the match to a tiebreaker.
Krzysiak finished the night with seven kills, nine digs and three aces. Chloe Browder also delivered seven kills while Hill led the Manta Rays with 10. Skylar Goddard was also Lemon Bay’s defense in the back with a team-high 16 digs, but it all just wasn’t enough.
“I think they got a little overconfident after that first game and they struggled the second and third game,” Lemon Bay coach Pat Auer said. “The fourth game they came back and looked really good and in the fifth game we had them. We just couldn’t put it away.”
Zoey Daniels also had six kills for North Port while Matthews and teammate Brook Kelly had four apiece.