Lady Eagles return to state tourney over First Baptist

St. John's Keri Yarbrough delivers a kill over First Baptist Christian's Camryn Muegge-Ruiz in the Lady Eagles' 3-1 Division V regional playoff victory on Monday night. 
POST SOUTH PHOTO/Peter Silas Pasqua

St. John of Plaquemine overcame deficits to win the first two sets before holding on for a 27-25, 26-24, 22-25, 25-18 Division V regional playoff victory over First Baptist Christian School on Monday night at SJHS' gym.

The No. 4 seed Lady Eagles (38-5), the District 3-V champions with an unblemished mark, return to the LHSAA State Volleyball Tournament for the second consecutive season at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner where they will face fifth-seeded Ascension Episcopal (23-7) on Thursday at 10 a.m. in the quarterfinals. No. 13 seed First Baptist finishes the season 12-5 after sweeping 20th seeded Westminster Christian in the bi-district round.

"We are at a point where we expect to be there every year," St. John coach Chase Mancuso said. "Last year, we really might not have been ready for that stage but there are no excuses now. We understand getting there is not the ultimate goal. We want to go there and win."

St. John fell to traditional power Episcopal of Acadiana in the quarterfinals last season in the school's first trip to the tournament. The semifinals are scheduled for Friday at 11:45 a.m. with the final set for Saturday at 11 a.m. on Center Court.

Jessie Brown led the Lady Eagles' attack against First Baptist with 18 kills and 10 digs. Victoria Weaver added 13 kills and two aces and Kamryn Theriot had 20 digs, four kills and two aces.

Kaycee Keller had seven kills and two blocks and Keri Yarbrough provided six kills and three blocks while Randi Seneca had 41 assists.

"I think our seed was a little deceiving but St. John is very good defensively," First Baptist coach Britt Hederman said. "It was hard to get the ball down against them."

Jacquelyn Fredericks led First Baptist with 13 kills. Milayne Danna had 15 assists, Camryn Muegge-Ruiz four kills and Emily Campo four aces.

"Our emphasis was to not make mistakes and we weren't able to do that," Mancuso said. "We had too many errors and that let them stay in the game. When you give a team of their caliber a couple of points and they come back and earn a few, it makes a big difference. We haven't played in over a week but down the stretch I think our experience and talent allowed us to hold on.

"I am disappointed in the way we played because I know we can play better but every game brings a new challenge and tonight it was ourselves. We have to put pressure on the other team and not let them do it to us."

St. John trailed by as much as 17-12 in the first set before a run to knot it up that included three kills by Weaver. Keller's kill and Brown's dink put the Lady Eagles ahead 23-22 before Yarbrough's kill set up game point on a First Baptist error.

The Lady Eagles had built a 9-5 lead to open the set on Jayme Rivet's ace following Theriot's kill before Muegge-Ruiz's ace put First Baptist ahead 12-10.

First Baptist led 5-1 to open the second set before St. John knotted it up on Weaver's pair of aces sandwiched around Brown's kill after Keller's block and kill.

Yarbrough's block put St. John ahead 23-22 before Brown's kill closed out the game after Fredericks' dink tied it at 18.

Campo's ace set up game point in the third game. First Baptist led by as much as 19-14 on Fredericks' kill after St. John jumped out to an early 6-3 lead following Brown's dink and Yarbrough's ace.

Weaver's kill was match point in the fourth game following kills from Seneca and Keller. St. John built a 19-12 lead on another kill by Weaver after Theriot sandwiched a kill and ace around Brown's kill. Yarbrough had a pair of kills early in the set.