Oct. 25—LISBON — Saint John took the early momentum and seemingly had an answer for Wellsville's talented front line, but the Tigers stormed back in a thrilling five-set match in a Division IV volleyball district semifinal Tuesday night.
Saint John won the first two sets, 25-19 and 25-23, while Wellsville took the last three by scores of 25-18, 25-15 and 15-9.
Gabbie Johnson led the Heralds (21-4) with 15 kills and 42 digs, while Emma Hutchins added 10 kills. Alexa Jordan finished with 42 digs and Lizzie Dukro had 35 assists.
"We have won in straight sets the entire season," Saint John coach Sarah Howe. "So playing an aggressive third, fourth set is a little out of our wheel house this year. I think they got a little fatigued at the end. Emma ran into the bench and she lost a little bit of her step.
"We kind of laid back a little bit in that third set and Wellsville just went to town."
Presley Stokes led the Tigers. Possessing a powerful kill shot, Stokes had six consecutive winners at the net in the final set.
"Our goal was to get touches on the ball [against Stokes]," said Howe. "This is the third year in a row we've faced them so we're very familiar with Presley Stokes.
"We finally had a little bit of height on the right side to stop her. We knew she was going to get her kills, and clearly, she did, but we had some great defense in there and we dug her out a lot."
The match was as close as the scores indicated.
Neither team scored more than five consecutive points.
Hutchins had five kills in the opening set for the Heralds, who trailed 19-18 in the second set before Hutchins' two kills highlighted a 7-4 rally to finish it.
"The first two sets we missed a lot of serves and had a lot of unforced errors," said Wellsville coach Sherry Allen. "We don't normally do that. I think a lot of it was nerves and a lot of people expected us to lose and they were trying to prove something. In the third set we settled down and kept our serves in."
Allen said keeping the ball in play allowed Stokes and teammate Bella Poppelriter to wreak havoc at the net.
"Those two, they just work well together," Allen said. "They're best friends on the court and off the court so that helps with the chemistry."
Saint John, which is the fifth seed in the sectional-district, took a 3-0 lead to open the final set, but three consecutive kills by Stokes and Poppelriter tied the score.
Stokes got in two more spikes and a pair of tips as Wellsville broke away from a 7-all tie. Poppleriter finished it off by serving the final three points, including an ace for the 15th point.
"We were 16-0 in our league [and] we didn't drop a set for the second year in a row," said Howe. "I don't know many teams that can play that consistent and that clean.
"They are a great group of girls and provide tremendous leadership. And we're young. I get 85 percent of them back next year."
Wellsville (18-6), the No. 7 seed, will play No. 4 Canton Central Catholic in the district title match at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Central Catholic defeated Southern Local 25-15, 25-16, 25-11 in Tuesday's other semifinal.