Sunday, Dec 21, 2014

Sebring thwarts AP

BY Brandon Howard
Highlands Today

Published:

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AVON PARK - Sebring overcame an opening set loss to knock off Avon Park on the road Thursday night, winning the non-district match 3-1.

After falling in the first set 27-25, the Blue Streaks swept the next three sets by scores of 25-15, 25-20, and 25-18.

The win improves Sebring (5-4) to over .500 on the season while the Red Devils (3-2) had their three game win streak ended.

"We just didn't come mentally prepared," Blue Streaks coach Venessa Sinness said. "We didn't want to finish and we let up in some of the sets. So we had to fight back. But kudos to Avon Park. They played scrappy all night long."

The opening set was a barn burner. While the Red Devils led for most of it, Avon Park floundered its 23-17 lead late when Sebring rolled off three straight points.

It was back and forth again from there, and tied at 25, Avon Park took a one-point advantage. With the Red Devils serving, each team battled for what was arguably the longest rally of the match, sending bodies flying in an effort to keep the ball in play. The hustle paid off for the Red Devils, as they emerged victorious to take a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-five match.

Sebring appeared more focused in the second set, as the Blue Streaks cruised to a relatively easy win in their most lopsided set of the night.

Paced by Marina Torres and Imani Tate, Avon Park battled valiantly in the third set, keeping up with Sebring for the first few points. But thanks to the stellar net play of Lindsey Whittington and Cadie O'Hern, the Blue Streaks were able to take a commanding 20-12 lead. Sebring weathered a short comeback attempt from Avon Park, which got as close as 24-19, but the Blue Streaks managed to hang on for the win to go up 2-1.

"We've got to work on finishing," Sinness said. "If you can't do that, you're in trouble. We've got to learn to play all the way until the end."

In what would be the final set, Avon Park had more than a few chances to tie the match, but early unforced errors proved to be too much to overcome.

Knotted at 11 all, a handful of Avon Park serves went astray, and up 14-12, Sebring went on a run to take a lead at 18-13.

And that's when Torres decided she'd had enough.

Hammering a kill shot into the hardwood, Torres stopped the Blue Streaks run and sparked a fire under her teammates, as the Devils scored three straight points.

A few rallies later, with the score at 21-17, Avon Park again traded points with Sebring. But the late comeback attempt fell short, and the Devils were extinguished 3-1.

"Play for play, we matched up great, but we just did some silly stuff," Avon Park coach Shane Wirries said. "I felt good in the first game. Actually, I felt good in all the games - until they started self destructing."

"It's just frustrating," Wirries added. "Because late in the set, they showed they can do it."

Even with the hiccups, though, Wirries said that he's tried instill a positive mind-set in his team, especially when his girls get down on themselves.

"I just want them to have a good time," he said. "When they have that look on their face, they play differently. So I tell them, 'let's just put that aside, have a good time, and come out here and do what we know we can do.'"

Sinness has a similar message for her team as well.

"I tell the girls, 'I don't care who's on the other side of the court, I want us to come out and play our game," she said. "It can be a county rival, a district game, or a non-district game - but the message is always the same."

Both teams will be at home for their next match. Sebring will host Lemon Bay on Monday while Avon Park hosts Hardee. The junior varsity will play first at 6 p.m., followed by the varsity at 7:30.

bhoward@highlandstoday.com

863-386-5841

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