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Branford's Lachelle Sikes, Dara Cannon and Cera McElreath celebrate after a game-wining shot.

BRANFORD — Branford rode a wave of energy to down Union County on Tuesday night in a District 6-1A semifinal 3-0 (26-24, 25-18, 25-20).

The Buccaneers play Bell on Thursday night in the district championship, but both teams are assured of a postseason berth.

It was a playoff atmosphere in the Branford gym and BHS was up to its usual antics in the first set with outside hitter Cera McElreath getting multiple points on push shots and power kills and teamed with Lachelle Sikes on a double block at the net to take an early 10-8 lead.

But the Bucs couldn’t separate from Union County, which had a knack for keeping the ball in play and finding open spots in the Branford defense with soft shots.

“McElreath was adjusting to where everyone was, to see what she needed to do,” Branford coach Mendy Sikes said. “Push, tip, or kill. She’s just a very versatile player.”

At one point the Tigers were able to find two points in open spot shots and a non-returned serve to tie the score at 19. But Sikes answered with a couple kills to help close out the set.

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Branford's Cierra Ellefson and Kinleigh Collins set up to block against Union County in a district semifinal Tuesday.

Sikes stayed busy in the second set with many kills and a net block for a point, although Union County’s Sabrina Howard recorded a point with a fantastic block on Sikes at the net. Middle blocker Cierra Ellefson got a great block at the net and then a kill to put Branford up 16-12, and the Bucs pulled away to win the set.

Ellefson admitted players were extra spirited for the game.

“We really want to go to regionals because in the past we would lose in the first round of districts,” she said. “Once we started getting points, everyone just amped up their game.”

Mendy Sikes added: “She played very well, her enthusiasm is what makes it fun to watch her play. It picks up the team.”

Early in the third set ,Branford misfired a couple times to allow Union County to go up 6-4, and extend its lead before Sikes started to dominate, including getting a kill at the net. McElreath got the game-winner.

Branford now seeks its first district title.

“We’ve never done it before,” Lachelle Sikes said. “The team means a lot to me and we want it more than any team out here. I feel like I gave 110%, but started out slow, and I picked it up, and I think our team did the same thing.”

Although Sikes has played outside hitter lately, she was back at middle blocker.

“We had been switching things up a little bit, but tonight I stayed in the middle,” she added.

Mendy Sikes said Lachelle Sikes “was very hyped up, even our bench was cheering and jumping up and down. Truthfully if it wasn’t for the bench, I don’t know if everyone out there (starters) would be as hyped up.

“They’re ready to win a district championship, They want it.”

Jeff Shourds is a sports writer for the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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