BAKER — At Baker School there are three sure signs fall has arrived.
Days get shorter. Birds migrate south for the winter. And the Gator volleyball heads south to Kissimmee for the Florida High School Athletic Association volleyball finals.
The Gators punched their ticket to their third straight Class 1A state finals Saturday with a 3-0 win over South Walton in the Region 1 finals by scores of 25-20, 25-19, and 25-18.
Baker plays Hilliard at 2 p.m. Friday in the state semifinals.
Gator Coach James Kerrell said the veteran Gator team entered the match expecting to win.
“I was really proud of the way they played,” he said. Coming into the gym they were just ready to go. They stepped up and they earned it.
“They played really well. We’ve been peaking. I think we are peaking at the right time this year.”
The match featured the power hitting of South Walton (16-8) against a defense-minded Gator squad.
The contrasting styles made for interesting play against two teams that while different in style, were evenly matched.
Neither team was able to pull away for an easy win, but the Gators (22-3) were able to create just enough breathing room in each set to keep the Seahawks at bay. Baker’s biggest lead at any point the match was
“We were really excited,” Baker senior Hana Wadsworth said. “We were a little nervous, but we were excited. We knew we had to come out here and play hard and do our best.
“We were ready to go back to state for the third time. We are hoping to go down and take it all the way this year.”
If the Gators were nervous it didn’t show as they took a quick 3-1 lead in the first set.
Strong play by Baker coupled with Seahawk mistakes allowed the Gators to stay in front the rest of the set.
A kill by Hartley Moate put the Gators within two points of winning the first set with Baker in front 23-18. South Walton was in no position to trade points but that’s what happened as the Gators closed out the set.
Aggressive play by South Walton hitters Sarah McManus and Belle Waldrop allowed the Seahawks to stick around in the second set, which was tied at 12-12 before the Gators got untracked outscoring South Walton 13-7 down the stretch.
Wadsworth came up big in the run with a block and a kill. Jordan Linzy’s drop shot finished off the second set win for Baker.
Facing elimination in the third set South Walton was up 8-5 after Waldrop kill, but the Gators weren’t about to be rattled on their home floor as they proceeded to take control of the set behind a pair of Miranda Whatmough kills.
South Walton coach Andrew Hock credited the experience of the Gators as well as the home crowd with tipping things in Baker’s advantage.
“The atmosphere was tough,” he said. “I know Baker plays better than usual when they are at home. I was very confident in my girls.
“I think Baker’s experience in this kind of match was a difference. They’ve been here and know what you have to do to win.”
Whatmough topped the Gators with five kills to go along with a team best 11 digs. Alex Roy and Linzy each had nine digs. Taylor Brunson had eight digs.
Lena Daoud had eight assists for the Gators. Moate and Wadsworth had four kills each.
Waldrop lead the Seahawks with seven kills. Katie Logan had 21 digs.
The Baker volleyball team is seeking donations to help with the expenses to the state tournament. If you would like to donate contact Baker School at 689-7279.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at email@example.com, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.