EAST MANATEE -- It took 199 serves and about two hours Tuesday night, but the Braden River volleyball team finally found out how good it can be.
Dominated in the first two games by Lakewood Ranch, their undefeated arch rival, the host Pirates turned up the intensity and rallied for a 19-25, 16-25, 25-16, 25-21, 15-12 non-district victory in front of a raucous crowd of about 500 fans.
Braden River (5-2) scored the first four points of the third game and kept its foot on the gas, scrambling for saves and putting away shots that went awry earlier in the match.
"It's definitely going to be a turning point for us," Braden River head coach Matthew McElhiney said. "It's a big rivalry between the girls. A lot of them play club together, so they want to win at all costs."
The young team got a boost from outside hitter Siena Kelley, a sophomore who came off the bench to record 10 kills, 15 digs and 15 service points, three of the kills coming in the deciding game. Kelley had missed
about two weeks with illness and a back injury.
But senior setters Courtney McDevitt (11 kills, 16 assists, 20 digs) and Demi-Shay Watchorn (18 assists, 4 aces, 24 digs) played key roles, both physically and mentally, McElhiney said.
McElhiney also said he prodded the girls to get into the match after he received an unsportsmanlike yellow card from an official after arguing a double-hit call in the third game.
"My seniors never stopped talking to them (the younger players)," he said. "They know where they can go and what they can do. They never stopped being positive with them."
The Mustangs (6-1) defeated Braden River in four games in their season opener on Sept. 4.
It appeared Lakewood Ranch would cruise again Tuesday behind Herald All-Area Player of the Year Mariah Robertson (12 kills) and Ashlyn Falahee (14 kills), who provided a formidable 1-2 punch at the net.
But the Pirates found an answer, matching the Mustangs' defensive prowess.
"Braden River got hot; we got cold," Lakewood Ranch head coach Perri Hankins said. "That's the kind of stuff that happens in rivalry games and away gyms."
The final game was close throughout. The Mustangs scored three straight points and tied the game at 11 on an Ali Milbourn ace. But her next serve was out, and the Pirates got consecutive kills from McDevitt to take control. An Madison Jaco block put the match away.
Hankins said she made an out-of-character move in the third game, changing the starting lineup. Falahee was motioned off the court as the game was about to begin.
"I have certain cardinal rules," Hankins said. "One of them is if you win the first two games, you don't change the starting lineup for the third game. I was hoping they (the Mustangs) would win and take me out of that."