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TAMPA — Ashley Wilson spiked the ball over the net and onto the court, giving Freedom an early lead and setting off a round of cheers among its boisterous group of fans.
That point made it 1-0 in the first set.
And it was one of the Patriots’ few moments of promise Tuesday night.
Once again, Wharton overwhelmed an opponent with its superior height, depth and poise. This time it was the Wildcats’ top local rival and they raced to a mostly effortless 25-9, 25-16, 25-14 victory.
“Our defense and serving were on point,” Wharton coach Eric Barber said. “We never really let them into the game.”
Senior outside hitter Caci Andreychuk led the Wildcats with 17 kills and nine digs, and the 6-foot-1 twosome of Ashton Stocker and Avery Day controlled action at the net as Wharton (17-0) maintained its perfect record.
Freedom (10-5) came to Wharton on a four-match winning streak, including a 3-1 victory over East Bay the night before.
Whether it was the grueling four-game match in Gibsonton the night before or the tense playoff-like atmosphere Tuesday, the Patriots were out of it almost from the start.
Wharton raced out to a 12-3 lead in the first game and kept on building its lead, scoring 11 of the final 12 points.
Freedom’s fans came prepared to trade barbs with Wharton’s infamous Blue Crew and even outnumbered the home crowd. But they were eventually drowned out as the Patriots fell behind and it became obvious defeat was inevitable.
“We want varsity,” Wharton’s fans taunted late in the first game.
The Wildcats continued to pour it on, going on scoring streaks of five, four and four points in the second game — the closest of the match. In the third game, Freedom fought back and even held an 11-10 lead before Wharton went on a 16-3 run to close it out.
“We definitely controlled the game,” Andreychuk said.
Actually, Wharton has taken control of the rivalry in recent years, winning seven straight matches. Freedom hasn’t won in the series since 2007 and hasn’t won a game since ’09.