Volleyball: Martin, Plant poised for back-to-back titles

By JOE SMITH, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007

LAKELAND - Plant sophomore outside hitter Maddie Martin received an extra special text message from her big brother Wednesday afternoon.

Luke Martin, a Panthers senior football player, is recovering at St. Joseph's Hospital after undergoing an appendectomy Tuesday afternoon. The surgery puts the starting defensive back out for the playoffs, taking away his chance to play for the Panthers' second straight state title.

But Maddie's chance for back-to-back-volleyball state championships continued with Wednesday's Class 5A semifinal against Lake Howell, with or without her biggest fan.

"Good luck in your game today," he wrote her. "I wish I could be there."

Big brother missed a big-time performance by Martin, who racked up 15 kills and 12 digs in the Panthers' hard-fought 27-25, 25-17, 25-20 win over the scrappy Silver Hawks at the Lakeland Center.

The win - Plant's 21st straight - puts it in the state title game at 7 tonight against Tallahassee Leon.

"Maddie, sheesh, she's great," Lake Highland coach Joy Becker said. "She killed us tonight."

The Panthers (29-1) needed a spark after several slow starts. They fell behind after missed serves and hitting errors, leaving the door open for the Silver Hawks. But with Lake Howell up 23-20, a momentum-swinging net violation call on the Silver Hawks (27-4) proved critical, and Plant junior Danielle Erb took advantage. The hard-hitting standout delivered two finesse, "completely improvisational" tap shots down the left side to give the Panthers the winning two-point cushion.

Then, it was Martin's turn. In Game 2 with the Panthers down five, Martin racked up three straight aces - and five straight service points - to help Plant regain the lead.

"Maddie played like an All-American tonight," Plant coach Leanna Taylor said. "Like she's been there before."

State volleyball

All games at the Lakeland Center

Class 6A semifinal

Durant vs. Jupiter, 8 p.m. Friday

Class 5A final

Plant vs. Tallahassee Leon, 7 today

Class A final

Bayshore vs. Warner Christian, 2 today

Can't make it? The Times will post live updates from Lakeland at http://blogs.tampabay.com/preps/.

Game balls

Maddie Martin, So., Plant: Played like an All-American (15 kills, 12 digs, five aces).

Danielle Erb, Jr., Plant: Erb's two kills late in Game 1 were the difference.

Plant d. Lake Howell

27-25, 25-17, 25-20