By Matthew Harrell
For the first time ever, a team from Bell High School will play in a state final.
It took some work as the Bulldogs had to hold off a furious Trenton comeback, but the Bulldogs won Saturday’s all-Gilchrist state semifinal, 3-2, to advance to the Class 1A championship match.
Bell jumped out to a two-sets-to-none lead before the Tigers clobbered the Bulldogs in the third set to seize momentum.
After a tighter fourth set, the Bulldogs closed the game out in the decisive fifth set, 15-9, for the school’s first win in a state playoff game.
Despite losing the third and fourth sets, Bell’s seniors said they were completely confident heading to fifth set.
“I refused to lose,” said senior middle blocker Juliana Whiting. “I will not lose to Trenton.”
“I felt really confident in that fifth set, not going to lie,” senior outside hitter Jill Morgan said. “[In the third and fourth set], I wasn’t that confident, but once we hit the fifth set, I was confident.”
“Once we hit 11 points [in the fifth set] I knew we were going to win,” senior libero Jenna Holley said.
Junior outside hitter Jillian Cassube hammered home a season-high 22 kills. Sophomore Taria Liles also set a season high for kills with 13. Seniors Whiting and Morgan each added 10 kills.
Sophomore Maddy Sapp had four blocks.
Holley led the team defensively with 28 digs. Cassube had 17, Morgan had 17 and senior Kylee Barry had 13.
Barry had a double-double as she totaled 58 assists to go along with those 13 digs.
A state championship for Bell would mean the Bulldogs pulled off an upset on par with the 1980 US Hockey team’s win over the Soviet Union in Lake Placid, because the team they are playing has had a similar run of dominance.
Bell’s opponent, the Sneads Pirates, have won the last five Class 1A titles. They are ranked No. 1 in class 1A and No. 38 across all classifications in the state of Florida, according to MaxPreps.
“We can’t really think so much about Sneads,” Barry said. “If we focus on our game and how we can play, then we’re unbeatable.”
“I’m just telling them we can win,” Head Coach Lisa Barry said. “Hit the ball hard, stay focused and play together. Stay calm. Don’t Panic.”
“I don’t want them to have any regrets,” Coach Barry said. “I want them to leave it all out there and walk away feeling good about themselves.”
(Photo by Donny Joiner)