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BROOKSVILLE - At first, it looked like a match that would mark another step in Nature Coast's ascension to the top of the county's volleyball heap. Young, talented and undefeated, the Sharks would dispatch Hernando, dust off their shoulders, and turn their focus toward longtime county power Central.
But midway through the second game Tuesday, the Leopards tore that story from the typewriter and crumpled it into a ball.
Nature Coast escaped with a 3-2 win, but Hernando did its best to assure the rest of the county that this year's HCAC title is anything but settled.
For a while, Nature Coast had good reason to be, breezing through the first game 25-14, then building an 18-12 lead in the second. But Hernando responded with a furious rally, taking nine straight points en route to a 25-19 win. The Leopards won the third game 25-19 as well.
Shelby Stocker, who finished with seven kills, put the Leopards up 23-19 with a block, while April Griffey notched one of her four kills to put them up 24-19.
"I was kind of irritated (after the first game)," Hernando coach Cristi Charlow said. "I knew that if the girls would stick to it, we could do it."
That said, Nature Coast responded. Bailey notched three kills and two blocks in the pivotal fifth game, while sophomore Alex Livengood punctuated the win with a smash from the middle of the court.
Sharks coach Dan Murphy called the victory a "learning experience," and what he meant was clear: While good teams find ways to rebound from maddening stretches of mediocrity, great teams never experience them in the first place.
"We need to bring it together," Bailey said. "We need to pull it together faster."
Central 276, Springstead 293
Brittany Lahey carded a match-low 64 to lead the Bears to a win at World Woods. Springstead's Jen Carl shot 65 to pace the Eagles. Central's boys also defeated Springstead despite Kevin Hubbard finishing with 39.