GIBSONTON – Top seed Bloomingdale won the Class 8A, District 9 championship Thursday night, but second seed Durant made the Bulls earn it. Just about every point was contested before Bloomingdale came away with a 25-23, 25-20, 24-26, 25-19 win.
The Bulls (13-3) will host St. Petersburg on Wednesday in the region quarterfinals. The Cougars (10-8) will play at Palm Harbor University.
Bloomingdale defeated Durant in straight sets in the regular season, but this match was much more difficult.
“I knew the girls would pull through with the win but I didn’t think it would be in four (games)," Bloomingdale coach Claudia Puig said. “I felt like we could’ve done it in three, but I don’t know what happened. We didn’t come out with the same energy as Tuesday (district semifinal). But at the end we were able to pull it off."
The first game set the tone for the rest of the night. The game was tied 11 different times. The biggest lead came late, when the Bulls went up 24-20 after a net violation. But Durant came back with two kills and a block from Sarah Herman to cut the lead to 24-23. But two more unforced errors closed it out.
The second game was a bit easier for Bloomingdale, but not without a few close moments. The Bulls got out to an 8-2 lead and looked like they would end it quickly. With the score 23-14, Durant scored five straight to make it 23-19. But Alex Neyra came up with a kill and a net violation gave the Bulls a 2-0 lead.
The Cougars would not go away.
Durant was the team that pulled away in the third game and held a 14-8 lead after a Herman kill. She ended the match with 13 kills. As expected, Bloomingdale clawed back into it and tied it at 18. The Cougars took a 23-21 lead, but the Bulls got the next three points and had a 24-23 lead. A block tied the game, an ace by Amber Williams made it 25-24 and a hit into the net gave Durant the two-point win.
The deciding game was tied 13 times before Bloomingdale, and especially senior outside hitter Gabrielle Culhane, got hot. Culhane had three straight kills late and Bloomingdale scored six of the final seven point to end the match. Culhane had 13 kills to lead the Bulls.
“We were a little nervous and came out timid," Culhane said. “We had to collect ourselves. And in the end there were no blockers there and I knew I had it. I had to put them away."