After fighting their way to a two-game lead in Wednesday’s Region 1-6A quarterfinal, things were starting to look dicey for the Gulf Breeze volleyball team.
Trailing 22-21 in a tight Game 4, first-year coach Ryan Davenport called timeout.
“We heard that Fort Walton was pretty good so were ready to play the best we could,” said sophomore Olivia Hepworth. “Once we got to 21 (coach) said ‘This is just a game to four.’
“We just had to get to four.”
The Dolphins delivered as Maddie Grace McCurdy knocked down a game-tying kill and Hepworth’s clutch play at the net sealed a 4-game win against visiting District 2-6A runner up Fort Walton Beach.
After stellar defensive play all around, it was Hepworth who played the role of hero as she scored from the final point from the corner of the net off a pair of blocking defenders.
“We got a three ball (bump, set, kill) and we set it perfectly,” said the sophomore hitter. “I hit it off the block … I was hoping (it would score).”
Hepworth finished the night with eight kills, three aces and three digs while McCurdy led the team with 22 kills and senior setter Mady Smith added 26 assists.
“We came out on fire,” Davenport said. “We took advantage of those first two sets because we knew, once Fort Walton started playing, it was going to be a battle.
“Things got a little nerve-racking after the first two sets – nothing’s ever won (until you) win three.”
At first it seemed as though the Dolphins would have an easy time of it, flying to a 25-16 win in Game 1 before grinding to a 25-18 win in Game 2.
The Fort Walton Beach offense came alive in Game 3, cruising to a 25-19 win and rocking the home team back on its heels.
“They got us on a run in that third set and then we just had pure resilience in that last one,” Davenport said. “Fort Walton just started playing better and then we compounded that with some serving errors and a couple of hitting errors. They took advantage of that and they played very well. They deserved to win that one.”
“I knew it was going to be a fight. They’re 22-4 for a reason.”
Now the Vikings are 22-5 and done for the season.
As for Gulf Breeze, the Dolphins now have two days to prepare for their Region 1-6A semifinal against visiting Choctawhatchee at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
The Indians dropped District 1-6A runner up Washington in four games on Wednesday.
“We’ll come in and fine tune some things and at the same time hopefully get the rest that we need so that we’ll be ready,” Davenport said. “Choctaw’s going to be tough too.
“Every match from here on, we’re expecting it to be tough.”
Region 1-6A Quarterfinal
At Gulf Breeze
GULF BREEZE def. FORT WALTON BEACH
25-16, 25-18, 19-25, 25-22
Gulf Breeze (23-4) – Allison Von Brock kill, 7 digs; Kiersten Ellis 3 digs; Kristen Watts 4 kills, block, 3 assists, dig; Amber Hartley 3 kills, 2 blocks, 3 assists; Mady Smith ace, 26 assists, 9 digs; Olivia Hepworth 3 aces, 8 kills, 3 digs; Jordan Taylor 10 kills, 4 blocks, dig; Sadie Baltz kill, dig; Maddie Grace McCurdy ace, 22 kills, block, assist, 9 digs; Olivia Kudrna ace, 18 assists, 5 digs; Julia Denby 9 kills, block, dig.
Next: The Dolphins host Choctawhatchee in Saturday’s region semifinal.
Want to go?
•WHO: Choctawhatchee Indians at Gulf Breeze Dolphins.
•WHAT: Region 1-6A Semifinal.
•WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday.
•WHERE: Gulf Breeze High School.