The Ida Baker Bulldogs went into Tuesday's District 6A-13 Tournament semifinals confident in their ability to upset the No. 2-seeded Riverdale Raiders.
Had the No. 3-seeded Bulldogs won the semifinal round match, they would have been assured of a spot in next week's regionals.
The Bulldogs were unable to match the multiple-point service runs and powerful attack at the net by the Raiders and were knocked out 25-20, 25-15, 25-10.
"It would have been a different game with Payton (Van Horn) tonight," Bulldogs coach Renee Van Horn said of her injured outside hitter. "The girls that stepped in for us gave me what they had to give and I am proud of them for that. It's just unfortunate. I told the girls that we were leaving the district too early."
The loss left the Bulldogs with a 16-8 record, which still is the best for volleyball in the school's short history. It also marked the end for nine senior players.
"We played with a lot of heart tonight," said Van Horn. "We were capable of coming from behind and we never give up."
In the beginning, the Bulldogs seemed ready to knock off the Raiders for the first time this season. They played close matches before, but after the Bulldogs claimed a 5-2 lead in the opening volleys, the Raiders went on a 13-1 run to take a 14-6 advantage they never relinquished.
The Bulldogs only led twice in the match - early in the first and third games.
The Bulldogs chipped away at their first big deficit to close within 19-18, but the Raiders responded to win game one.
There was no comeback by the Bulldogs in the middle game after trailing 10-2. They just were never able to put together a service run of more than three points while the Raiders scored point after point after point from the same server.
The Raiders relied on sophomore Chenelle Walker at the net. Walker finished with a game-high 15 kills and three stuff blocks. Junior Cindy Moyer added seven kills and junior Courtney Schopke six kills.
The Bulldogs' second and final lead of the match came at 3-2 in the third game. That's when Kristen Poole served four straight points to push the Raiders into a 7-3 lead. After several sideouts, the Bulldogs closed within 10-9, but that is as close as they would get.
Tiffani Charles stepped to the service line and ran off 12 consecutive points to put the Raiders ahead 23-9. The Bulldogs mishit three serve receives, volleyed long or into the net three times and were guilty of a net violation twice during the run.
Three of the seniors led the Bulldogs attack, topped by Louie Ross with six kills and Brenna Hambsch and Whitney Bennett with four apiece. Senior Madison Kobs was credited with 12 assists.
The Raiders play for the district championship Thursday night on their home court against top-seeded Fort Myers, which disposed of South Fort Myers 25-15, 25-4, 25-11 in Tuesday's other semifinal match.
District 5A-13: Top-seeded North Fort Myers eliminated Cape Coral Tuesday night 25-15, 25-4, 25-11 in the semifinal round at Lemon Bay.
"We did not play great, made some sloppy passes, but Susie McKeever did a good job of getting the ball back to the front row tonight," said Red Knights coach Jeremy Ridgeo.
The Red Knights were led by Miranda Ashby with 12 kills and seven digs, and Jessica Wagner with 11 kills. McKeever handed out 24 assists to go with 13 digs.
The Red Knights (18-4) play for the district championship at 7 p.m. Thursday against host and No. 2 seed Lemon Bay.
District 3A-11: Top seed Evangelical Christian advanced to Thursday's championship game with a 3-0 victory Tuesday over C.S. Naples. Canterbury was not as fortunate, falling 3-0 to No. 2 seed Seacrest.
Region 1A-6: Oasis junior Gina Falvey shot 84 Tuesday in Naples at The Hideout to finish sixth individually, but did not qualify for the State Class A Finals.
Community School of Naples and Lemon Bay teams qualified for the state tourney with a 1-2 finish. Seacrest's Emma Bradley (76) and St. John Neumann's Jenna Tuccio (78) were 1-2 individually to earn a trip to the finals.