CHIPLEY — Down two sets to one to Chipley in the Region 1-1A finals the Baker volleyball team showed the stuff of which champions are made on Saturday. The Gators did rally back to take the last two sets and earn a second-straight trip to the state finals in Kissimmee by scores of 25-14, 18-25, 21-25, 25-18, 15-12.
In a rematch of last year’s Class 1A state finals match, Baker (24-2) plays Lafayette in the state semifinals at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee. The championship match is scheduled for Friday at 5:05 p.m.
Baker senior middle hitter Haley Wagner had a mix of emotions after the hard fought match.
“Oh wow, I can’t even talk right now,” she said. “Last year it didn’t hit me as hard as this year because I’m a senior this year.
“I can’t even describe what I’m feeling at this time. It’s a mixture of exhaustion and complete excitement and just overall joy.”
Baker’s playoff experience showed in the first set as the Gators jumped in front 3-2 and cruised to the win.
Wagner, who had a career-best seven blocks, was a big part of the first set win as the Gators executed their game plan to near perfection.
The Tigers (20-7) seemed to get over the big match jitters in the second set and came back strong behind the play of Sara Kaye Compton and Aaliyah Coleman.
Chipley got off to a 5-0 lead in the second set and never trailed as the Tigers evened things up at 1-1.
The third set went back-and-forth as neither team could seem to grab the momentum for any sustained period of play.
With the teams tied 7-7 in the set the Gators ran off three straight points to go up 10-7. But an unforced Gator error gave the Tigers a point and the serve and with Compton in serve Chipley ran off five straight points to go up 13-10.
Baker closed the gap to 13-12 before the Tigers pulled away to take the set and go up 2-1.
Chipley led 8-7 in the fourth set before a Tiger serving error swung fickle momentum back to Baker.
Hana Wadsworth in serve, the Gators got back-to-back kills by Savanah Risen and Wagner gave the Gators a 9-8 lead. Baker scored five more points behind the serving of Wadsworth before the Tigers broke serve. But by then Baker was up 14-9 and the momentum was in Baker’s camp to stay as the Gators took the set to tie things up.
Chipley led 5-2 in the fifth and deciding set when a kill by Baker’s Katie Wickery started a 5-0 run that sealed the win for the Gators. Jordan Linzy had two kills in the run and Risen had one kill as the Gators moved in front 8-5.
Facing elimination, the Tigers were no match for the veteran Gators. Chipley mistakes coupled with strong play by Baker down the stretch put the Gators up 14-10.
Wickery led Baker with seven kills and 10 assists. Wagner had three kills and eight digs to go along with her seven blocks.
Alex Roy had a team best 14 digs and three aces for the Gators.
The match ended with a kill by Risen and the Gators were on their way back to Kissimmee.
“It was a terrific match,” Chipley coach Jerry Corbin said. “I thought it was two really good volleyball teams. The effort was there and the tenacity was there, but Baker has been here a lot of times and this is new ground for us.
“When you haven’t been there it’s really difficult. You saw we had three serves in the net the last game or where the ball hit out in the last game. It’s just really hard when you haven’t done it.. But I’m proud of my girls and I wouldn’t take nothing for this volleyball team.”
Baker coach Tomikko Parks credited the win to the fact that the Gators were able to grab the momentum when they needed it the most.
“Volleyball is a game of momentum, lots of momentum and once that momentum starts switching in your favor good things happen,” she said. “We just had to get the momentum back on our side. Once that happened, good things started happening for us again.
“This one feels pretty good. Last year we thought it was possible once we got a taste of it. I don’t even know what to say. This is special. These girls are special. I’m so proud of them.”