ALLENTOWN – There weren’t many surprises Tuesday as Baker beat Okaloosa County rival Laurel Hill in the semifinals of the District 1-1A volleyball tournament at Central School.
The Gators took the match in four sets by scores of 25-17, 25-11, 23-25, 25-17. Baker (21-2) will face Jay, a winner over Northview at 6 p.m. in Thursday’s championship match.
The win over the Hoboes marked the 20th straight season Baker has made the state playoff. The Gators will go for a 10th consecutive district title when they face the Royals.
Baker coach Tomikko Parks said Tuesday’s win was just a step in the progression that she hopes will take the Gators back to the state finals.
“Overall we are happy because that is the first step in getting to the playoffs,” she said. “There were times we lost focused so we have to make sure we keep focused and stay engaged, but overall I’m happy that we got the first step down. We just have to keep marching.
“Thursday we need to play Baker volleyball. We have to come in and be focused and do the things that have gotten us to this point. We can’t go out there and try new things and play outside of ourselves.”
The Gators were solid, but not spectacular in beat the Hoboes (8-12) in the first set.
Baker jumped to a quick 3-1 lead, but Laurel Hill tied things up at 4-4 and kept things close for a while. A kill by Laurel Hill’s Bridget Zessin had the Hoboes within three points of the Gators with the score 11-8. But a pair of kills by Katie Wickery aided a 5-2 Baker run that kept the Gators comfortably in front the rest of set.
The second set was all Baker as the Gators jumped to a 7-0 lead behind the serving of Savannah Risen. Wickery continued to play big with three kills during the Baker explosion and the closest the Hoboes got in the set was 8-3 as Baker rolled to the win.
looked to be on the brink of punching the ticket to the playoffs.
When the Gators took a 4-1 lead in the set three it look as if Baker was on the brink of punching its ticket to the playoffs. But a pesky Hobo squad refused to go away and extended the season by one set with a gutsy performance in set three.
An unforced Gator error pulled Laurel Hill to within 4-2 and back-to-back points with the Lauren Gordon in serve tied things up at 4-4. Neither team was able to pull away in the set as the Hoboes were able to stay within striking distance as Baker never led by more than four points in the set.
Gordon being in serve seemed to mean good things were going to happen for the Hoboes. Gordon was serving when a 14-12 deficit into a 16-14 advantage as Laurel Hill played steady and capitalized on Baker mistakes.
Laurel Hill was up 19-18 when back-to-back kills by Nichole Bailey and Gordon pushed the lead to 21-18.
Baker tied the set at 22-22 and took a 23-22 lead, but the Hoboes wouldn’t be denied. A Zessin kill capped a 3-0 run as Laurel Hill took the set.
That was all she wrote for the Hoboes.
Baker took a 5-0 lead in the fourth set thanks to a Haley Wagner block and Wickery kill. The closest Laurel Hill got in the set was 6-4 as the Gators coasted to the win.
Wickery turned in a double-double with a match-high 21 kills and 10 digs. Risen had 19 assists for the Gators and Alex Roy had a team-best 23 digs.
Laurel Hill coach Ashley Miller had nothing but praise for her team at how for it came during the season.
“I’m just happy that they’ve improved the amount they improved in one season,” she said. “I didn’t get the job until the day before practice so we didn’t have any preseason work or any summer practice. The fact that we were able to make this much improvement in a short period of time is a credit to how hard Jennifer Franklin, my assistant coach works and how hard the kids worked and how much heart they had.”