BRADENTON -- On the cusp of a stunning upset, Manatee fell victim to a stunning comeback.
With their raucous fanbase ready to explode, the Hurricanes did everything they could to hold nationally ranked Venice at bay during Thursday's Class 7A-District 11 volleyball final.
And early on, they had the look of the first Manatee team to beat Venice in 20 years.
It didn't happen.
After winning the first two games, the Canes fell 3-2 after the Indians won the final game 15-6.
Oh, they came close. Manatee (24-3) rebounded from a 9-2 deficit in Game 1 on the strength of four runs of at least three points en route to a 25-23 win.
Game 2 wasn't as dramatic. The Canes took a 7-6 lead on a kill from Jacqui Armer and never trailed again, pulling away for a 25-18 victory.
Then came that 6-0 start to Game 3. Manatee's side of the gym was delirious.
The Indians, however, rebounded for a 25-23 win and kept the momentum for the rest of the evening.
"I really have nothing bad to say about how they played (Thursday)," said Manatee coach Rachel Batey. "I'm just so proud of them."
Batey was especially complimentary of freshman Haley Coulter, who was battling a stomach virus, and senior Allie Clements, who has a pulled quad and pulled groin in her left leg.
Coulter had six kills and 15 digs, and Clements had 13 kills and 17 digs. Batey also remembered Manatee get swept by Venice earlier this season.
"For them to pull out five games in their condition..." Batey said
By Game 4, the Hurricanes started to look worn. They managed to tie the game at 16 on an Indians service error and closed to within 22-20 on Clements' kill.
But relentless Venice, which finished with 87 digs, never relinquished the lead.
"They were just physically done in that fifth game. They had nothing left," Batey said.
Venice coach Brian Wheatley took the Indians into a stairwell following the second game for a chat before shaking up his starting lineup and putting his starting six in different positions.
"Instead of playing not to lose in the first two games, we played to win," he said. "I'm proud of our team with the way they fought. And to come back from being down 2-0 in an opponent's gym is amazing.
"Manatee played a great match. They played their hearts out (Thursday). I'm really impressed with Manatee."
Holly Mattmuller had 16 kills and Danika Yoder dished out 41 assists for the Indians, who have won 11 straight district championships.
Becca Butler had 16 kills, Kayla Armer had 45 assists and Rachel Drummey added 15 kills for the Hurricanes, who will play a regional quarterfinal Wednesday at the winner of the District 12 final between Stuart Martin County and Okeechobee.
That game was scheduled for Thursday but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.
A make-up date has not been announced.
"I'm just glad we get to still go on to regional. We'll see other teams and hopefully we'll win a different trophy," Batey said. "They know how much I care about them as people, on and off the court...They worked so hard, and I'm proud of the games.
"They took them to five games, they played the best they could, they didn't just give up at any point."