Vikings Fall to Crusaders in Girls' Tennis
An epic postseason battle was waged Wednesday in Cameron between Union Pines and Cardinal Gibbons at the John S. Frye Tennis Facility.
Ultimately the visiting Crusaders prevailed victorious in the 3-A dual team tennis state playoff match by a final tally of 5-4, but not before facing the sternest of challenges from the Lady Vikings.
Cardinal Gibbons (19-6), which entered the tilt as the defending dual team state champions and top seed from the Carolina Conference, was forced to win all three doubles matches Wednesday to advance to the semifinals.
Crusader head coach Andrew Tuttle was both enthusiastic and humble in his post-match comments.
“I am definitely proud of my team,” Tuttle said. “They were really resilient today. To go to three tiebreakers in singles and only win one is always tough. As long as you win two singles matches you always have a chance going into doubles.
“That is all you can ask for, a chance, and I feel like our doubles has been a real strong point for us all season. Our No. 2 doubles team (Natalie Freeman-Caroline Smith) won a regional title, so we are pretty strong in doubles and we needed to be.
“Union Pines had a great team this year with a lot of seniors. I told them after the match that this is the type of dual where both teams deserve to win. When you put that much time into it and play for close to four-and-a-half hours and it comes down to a couple of points it is really tough.
“So I feel for the Vikings but coach Frye has built an amazing program here — one I look up to and admire a great deal — and they will be back.”
After going down 1-0 early in the contest, Union Pines received straight-set wins in singles play from seniors Melissa Tally (No. 2) and Madi Kramer (No. 3) to take a 2-1 lead. Sophomore Devin Knors, the Crusader’s No. 1 singles player and 2012 3-A individual singles state semifinalist, then squared the match at 2-all with a tiebreaker win over Vike freshman Mary Beth Jackson.
That left the No. 5 and No. 6 matches still on the court, and both were decided by tiebreakers as the tension mounted. A 10-8 tiebreaker win by freshman Megan Smith gave Union Pines a 3-2 lead, then, some 30 minutes later, senior Elena D’Argenio claimed a 10-7 tiebreaker victory to give Union Pines a 4-2 lead in the dual.
As a result Gibbons needed victories in all three doubles matches — where a winner is decided by the first team to 10 games, leading by two — in order to make a return trip to the East Regional championship.
The Vikings No. 1 and No. 2 duos of Jackson-Tally and D’Argenio-Laura Cameron, respectively, each put forth spirited efforts but fell short as the dual score was knotted at 4-4.
Therefore, the fate of the entire four-plus hour hard-court clash came down to the No. 3 doubles match played between Union Pines’ Kramer-Smith and Cardinal Gibbons’ Andie Fitzgerald-Monica Panosian.
Early on the Vikings seemed in command of the match as Kramer-Smith rushed out to a 4-1 lead. On each of the next four changeovers Union Pines held its (three-game) lead as the Vikings seemed to be incrementally making their way to the state semifinals. Then facing an 8-5 deficit, the Fitzgerald-Panosian tandem mounted a late charge, taking four straight games to grab a 9-8 edge.
Union Pines answered by earning a break to tie the tilt at 9-all. But the Vikes then dropped the final two games as Gibbons advanced on to face Nash Central in the regional title match and Union Pines saw its state championship hopes dashed.
“In the end we just couldn’t get it done,” said Frye in describing the final doubles match. “I thought the Gibbons’ kids really played well and they began to make shots. There at the end I felt our shots may have been a step short in preparation.
“But to give Madi and Megan due credit, they played well to put themselves and the team in a position to win it, and this was the first really big match the girls have really had all year and its awfully hard to get it done sometimes when you don’t face that level of competition somewhat consistently.”
After the match was over as Cardinal Gibbons was loading its bus and the lights went out on the upper court, Frye spoke about a feeling of pride for his team. The loss was the first of the year for Union Pines, which finished its season at 17-1
“First of all I am really proud of my seniors,” said Frye. “Laura lost in straight sets but I still think she played her best singles match of the season. She played a terrific match and her second set just kept getting better. Melissa is playing her best tennis right now and she performed in sterling fashion.
“I also thought Mary Beth had a great match to take a state semifinalist to a tiebreaker. Madi Kramer was exceptional for us at No. 3 and then Elena and Megan were key players for us and both of them were able to stick in there and get critical singles points for us.”
Cardinal Gibbons 5 Union Pines 4
Singles — Knors (CG) d. Jackson 6-2, 3-6 (10-6); Tally (UP) d. Natalie Freeman 6-3, 6-2; Kramer (UP) d. Maggie Reilly CG 6-4, 6-3; Caroline Smith (CG) d. Laura Cameron 6-0, 6-2; Elena D’Argenio (UP) d. Andie Fitzgerald CG 7-5, 5-7 (10-7); Megan Smith (UP) d. Monica Panosian CG 6-4, 4-6 (10-8).
Doubles — Knors-Reilly (CG) d. Jackson-Tally 10-6; Freeman-Smith (CG) d. Cameron-D’Argenio 10-4; Fitzgerald-Panosian (CG) d. Kramer-Smith 11-9.
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