The Panthers knock off the Indians, ranked No. 2 in the state and 38th nationally

VENICE

In the championship match-up of the 4th Annual Battle at the Beach volleyball tournament, either Venice or Tampa Plant was going to come away with its first loss.

Grabbing the momentum in the middle of the first set, the Panthers stormed back to take a 2-1 victory over the Indians 23-25, 25-19, 15-6 in the title match Saturday afternoon at the Venice High Teepee.

Ranked second in the state and 38th nationally by MaxPreps, the Indians (12-1) opened a 15-8 lead in the first set.

“We started off the match like bandits, but the match was lost in the second half of the first game,” Venice coach Brian Wheatley said. “We were ready to go. We just didn’t keep that edge. Even though they didn’t win that first game, they got a lot of momentum. We took off the pedal. They carried that into the second game and obviously the third game.”

Ranked 30th in the state and 552nd nationally and coming off a long three-set victory over Lake Highland Prep in the semifinals, the Panthers (11-0) pulled away at the end of the second set and dominated the third. Plant broke a 1-1 tie with 10 straight points. The Indians made a couple of brief runs, getting to within 13-6.

“The match was definitely lost in game No. 1,” Wheatley said. “Plant deserved to win it. They were hungrier than us. It was something we’ve got to learn from and move forward. It’s going to make us a better team because of it.”

Sadie Kluner had eight kills in the final and was one of the top players in the two days event, according to Wheatley. Others were setter Paige Canevari, middles Carley Faulkner and Aja Jones and outside hitter Paradise Gibson.

“It’s all part of the process. None of our goals have been destroyed,” Wheatley said. “It’s hard to lose the first match of the season, but we’ve got to take the next step and grow from it, which we will.”

Venice returns to action Tuesday at home against Manatee.

Both Riverview and Port Charlotte finished third in pool play.