BAKER — Down a set to Liberty County, the Baker School volleyball team came roaring back in the Region 1-1A semifinals Tuesday to beat the Bulldogs in four sets 21-25, 25-10, 25-17, 25-20. The Gators shook off the slow start thanks in part to the serving of sophomore Taylor Brunson, who finished the night with six aces and 36 assists.
BAKER — Down a set to Liberty County, the Baker School volleyball team came roaring back in the Region 1-1A semifinals Tuesday to beat the Bulldogs in four sets 21-25, 25-10, 25-17, 25-20 .
The Gators shook off the slow start thanks in part to the serving of sophomore Taylor Brunson, who finished the night with six aces and 36 assists.
Emily Stewart led the Gators with 11 kills.
Baker-Liberty County volleyball photos>>>
The slow start by the Gators didn’t catch Baker Coach Tomikko Parks totally by surprise when she considered the youth of the team.
“We knew the nerves would come out,” she said. “We have a lot of new girls who haven’t been to this point. As many times as we tell them, ‘It’s just a game,’ they are teenage girls.
“We were able to kind of put the nerves down, play our game and start playing the way we know how to play.”
The Bulldogs took a quick 8-3 lead in the first set behind the play of Kaly Partridge and Madison Peddie.
Baker inched its way back into the set and pulled ahead 17-16 with senior Hartley Moate in serve.
The Gators led 18-17 following a Brittany Brunson serve, but that was the last Baker lead of the set as Partridge hammered home a pair of kills to spark an 8-3 Liberty County run to close out the set.
The Bulldogs (21-6) jumped in front 3-0 in the second set before a kill by junior middle hitter Ashley Black put Baker on the scoreboard and swung momentum to the Gators.
Baker (19-3) pulled even at 3-3 with Taylor Brunson in serve.
A kill by Peddie put the Bulldogs in front for what would be the last time in the match.
An unforced Liberty County error pulled Baker into a 4-4 tie and a kill by Brittany Brunson gave the Gators a lead they would hold all but one point the rest of the match.
Parks said she thought the second set was the turning point in the match.
“We got the ball back and started serving tougher, playing smarter at the net and adjusting on defense,” she said.
Taylor Brunson was in serve in the third set as the Gators jumped in front 6-0. Brunson had an ace in the quick run to go along with kills by Moate and Stewart.
The closest Liberty County got the rest of the set was three points at 9-6 as Baker closed to within a set of taking the match.
The Gators were up 5-1 in the fourth set following a Black kill when the Bulldogs made one last push. Two kills by Peddie were sandwiched around a kill by Mary Sewell as Liberty County tied the set 5-5.
Three straight unforced errors by Liberty County helped the Gators open up an 8-5 lead.
Baker led 17-11 after a Stewart kill and held off a late Liberty County charge to take the set and the match.
Stewart was the only Gator with double digit kills, but Brittany Brunson was far off with nine kills. Black added eight kills and Kelsee McGraw had seven kills.
Baker libero Lena Daoud had a team best 21 digs.
The Gators play at South Walton at 2 p.m. on Saturday for the right to advance to their fourth straight state final four.
“We are still not finished,” Parks said. “Our goal every year is to get to the championship game and we are still building to that point.
“We are playing good volleyball right now. So we’ve got to keep playing the way we know how to play.”
Email News Bulletin Sports Editor Randy Dickson, follow him on Twitter or call 850-682-6524.