St. John Lutheran eases past The Villages

Saints celebrate senior night with sweep of Buffalo

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Posted October 11, 2023 | By Mark Pinson/Special to the Ocala Gazette
Photos By Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette

St. John Lutheran was able to finish the regular season on a high note and honor their seniors in style with a sweep of The Villages High School by scores of 25-9, 25-19 and 25-20 on Wednesday night.

The straight-set win improved the Class 2A Saints to 15-7 on the season.

“It was a good match, our seniors did a real good job and the rest of the team really worked hard to make sure it was a good senior night, and we appreciate that,” said St. John Lutheran coach Brad Ewers. “We work all of the time on using our diversity and the depth that we have. I also thought we did a great job defensively by making a quick transition to offense and moving the ball side to side which makes us tough to defend.”

The loss dropped the Class 4A Bufalo to 8-9-1 overall.

St. John Lutheran came out firing on all cylinders in the first set and jumped out to a 10-4 lead as junior outside hitter Sophia Ochoa hammered a pair of spikes, junior Rylee Palmateer had a block and kill, and senior Giselle Baluyot had a service ace.

The Villages, which was at a decided height disadvantage at the net, played hard and was paced by junior middle hitter Bailey Wright and senior outside hitter Moira Mangum.

St. John Lutheran went on a 15-5 run which was sparked by a pair of kills by Palmateer, two spikes by senior Arisa Ford, solid serving by junior Payton Nazzari, and a service ace by Baluyot to take the first set.

The second set was much closer as The Villages roared back from a 20-9 deficit to pull within 23-18 after a kill by Sharon Wiechens and a combination block by Viviana Toucet Martinez and Mangum.

But St. John Lutheran stayed poised and answered with a thunderous cross-court spike by Ochoa and Baluyot added a perfectly placed kill shot to give the Saints the second set.

The Villages played its best in the final set after falling behind by a score of 16-10. The Buffalo refused to fold and battled back to tie the score at 19.

Once again, St. John stayed composed and went on a 6-1 run as Ashley Downs had a spike, Ochoa drilled a winner, Baluyot added a kill and a service ace and Palmateer closed out the set and the match with a sizzling spike.

St. John had a successful regular season and has gotten key contributions from its seniors.

“Our seniors have done a lot for this program and most of them have been here for three or four years,” coach Ewers said. “They are team leaders and sometimes I don’t have to say much because they take care of business.”

St. John now turns its focus to next week’s Class 2A-District 5 tournament that will be held in Ormond Beach. The Saints are the No. 1 seed but still have to travel to the east coast for the tournament.

“Calvary Christian is hosting our entire tournament,” coach Ewers said. “We should get a first-round bye and then play on Tuesday. We haven’t seen too many of the teams in our district, but we’ve worked hard to prepare for this time of the season and I’m confident in our ability.”

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