TAMPA — Berkeley Prep coach Mackenzie Dagostino wanted to see what her team could do without its two best hitters, so when the Bucs’ Class 5A-9 semifinal began Tuesday against Tampa Catholic, they were both on the bench.
For the first two sets, outside hitter Jenna Hampton and middle hitter Amanda Phegley were absent from the court, taking it all in from the sideline as the scrappy Crusader squad fought through handfuls of ties to eke out victories in the first two sets.
But with her team down 2-0 and a playoff berth on the line, Dagostino sent Hampton and Phegley in to save the day. And in sets three, four and five, that’s exactly what they did.
Phegley, a Penn State commit, tallied a team-high 17 kills and Hampton added eight more as the Bucs rallied to top Tampa Catholic 3-2 (28-30, 22-25, 25-16, 25-20, 15-8).
“No matter who you’re playing, when you play them, you can never take a point, a set, a match off,” Dagostino said. “I think a lot of times girls go through the motions, and they can come out there a little lackadaisical, and it’s really hard to get out of that. Fortunately, we were able to get out of that.”
Berkeley Prep (24-2) will play Cardinal Mooney (19-7) in Thursday’s district final. Earlier on Tuesday night, the Cougars took two of the first three games against Academy of the Holy Names (14-8). But the Jaguars took the next two, bringing about a decisive fifth game that went down to the wire before Cardinal Mooney escaped with a game-five 15-13 victory.
The only other time the Cougars and Bucs met this season, Berkeley Prep won in straight sets. That has been business as usual, for the most part, for the Bucs this season — until Tampa Catholic (18-8) gave them a challenge.
Berkeley Prep started off strong at the net in Game 1, but Tampa Catholic climbed back in by doing the same, and late kills from outside hitter Elissa Alcantara helped the Crusaders break it open late to take a set-one victory. In the second, Tampa Catholic, energized by its early success, used the momentum to its advantage. The set went back and forth through the middle, but late Berkeley prep errors helped the Crusaders win their second in a row.
When Hampton and Phegley came out, though, the match dynamic shifted. Phegley was responsible for five of Berkeley Prep’s first six points, and the Bucs jumped on top and never looked back.
“I was ready,” Phegley said about her kill streak. “I was like, ‘Let’s go. ‘Let’s get this over with and get this done.’”
Tampa Catholic kept it close through the middle part of the last three sets, but always, with Hampton and Phegley’s help, the Bucs found a chance to break away.
Despite the Bucs’ early hiccups, Dagostino was pleased to see other players — including senior outside hitter Isabella Samson, who ended the night with 13 kills — try their hand at leading the way.
But as Hampton and Phegley’s entrance into Tuesday’s match showed, sometimes there’s no replacing a pair of heavy hitters.
“It definitely shows the confidence level that our girls have in them,” Dagostino said. “It’s something we will be working on tomorrow, because as great as it is to be able to depend on them … we need other girls that we can depend on, too.”