This time, Pine Crest finished.
The Panthers were within one set victory of the state final four each of the past two seasons and saw those leads slip away each time.
On Tuesday night, Pine Crest went back and forth most of the final game again before putting away reigning Class 5A state girls’ volleyball champion Westminster Christian 25-20, 25-15, 25-21 at the Warriors’ home gym in the Region 4-5A final.
Pine Crest (18-1) advanced to the state semifinals where it will play at Tampa Berkeley Prep at 2 p.m. on Saturday. It’s the first appearance for the Panthers in the semifinal round in three seasons.
Berkeley Prep will present a major challenge as the Bucs are led by a pair of Penn State University commitments in senior 5-6 libero Jenna Hampton and 6-4 middle blocker Amanda Phegley.
Sturgeon said the core players from a roster that has only two seniors played for Pine Crest since their eighth grade year, giving them the experience in their system and allowing them to compensate for the graduation of several key seniors.
"This team has a lot of chemistry with a lot of juniors on the team," Pine Crest coach Albert Sturgeon said. "They came up from teams from before that have lost but have seen what it took to win."
Last season, Pine Crest won the first two sets of its match against Calvary Christian before the Eagles rallied to eliminate the Panthers from the playoffs.
And this was a year after another Pine Crest squad let a 2-0 lead vanish against Cardinal Gibbons in the regional finals.
The precise setting of senior Shari Stenglein, who finished with 37 assists and 16 digs, kept Pine Crest on track.
Stenglein is headed to Columbia University.
Fowler, who is committed to Rice University, helped do the rest as she finished with 11 kills.
Junior Arielle Ghiloni had a team-high 15 kills, nine digs and two aces.
"This is a completely new team, but I knew we could do it and I know we have what to takes to win state," Fowler said. "We have some of the best hitters and setters and defenders in the country on this team. We just had to put all of that together with energy and friendship."