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Fight to the finish favors Buccaneers

Berkeley Prep holds off a feisty Pine Crest team in five games.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2005

LAKELAND - In Thursday's state semifinal against Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest, Berkeley Prep standouts Courtney Cohen and Janet Okogbaa accounted for 46 of the Bucs' 62 kills. But it was outside hitter Briana Mayhew, one of the Bucs' lesser-known talents, who arguably provided the biggest spark in the tense closing moments of a thrilling back-and-forth match.

With the squads locked in battle during a see-saw final game, Mayhew produced three kills and a block in a crucial stretch to give Berkeley momentum. And on match point, Okogbaa put the finishing touches on a dramatic 25-18, 25-8, 23-25, 23-25, 15-11 win with a thunderous kill that sent the Bucs to the final a 15th time.

"She came through in the clutch," Berkeley coach Randy Dagostino said of Mayhew. "That was huge and that was by design."

Berkeley (22-9) faces Orlando Lake Highland Prep in today's 4:30 p.m. final. The Bucs have won 12 state titles, all under Dagostino's watch. The program improved to 27-3 all time in final four matches.

This win certainly didn't come easy. At times, Berkeley looked unbeatable. At times, it looked average. But in the end, the resilient squad gutted one out.

"This is exactly how our season has been," Dagostino said.

Behind Cohen (14 kills) and Okogbaa (32 kills), Berkeley was so good in the opening two games it looked as if the Bucs might end the match in under an hour. And that might have been a bad thing. Berkeley players said afterward the lopsided nature of the match early on might have caused a loss of focus. Pine Crest (21-5), though, deserves credit for not giving up. The Bucs made mistakes. The Panthers capitalized on them.

"They picked up their tempo when their backs were against the wall," Dagostino said.

As did Berkeley.

After Pine Crest sent the match to a fifth game, Berkeley seemed to get a second wind. Trailing 7-5, an Okogbaa kill started a four-point run. Then Mayhew got hot.

"I realized I needed to pick it up," Mayhew said.

She did, and now the Bucs are one victory from glory.

[Last modified November 11, 2005, 01:19:18]


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