PILOT MOUNTAIN — It was an almost perfect early fall afternoon, and for Mount Airy girls tennis coach Rodney Pell, an almost perfect outcome.
The Lady Bears completed their regular season Thursday afternoon at East Surry with a hard-fought 7-2 victory that brought the team to a number of season milestones.
Playing without the services of No. 1 singles player Lauren Brintle for the third consecutive match, Mount Airy battled its way to victory in several close matches to earn its 20th victory of the season, clinch second place in the Northwest 1-A Conference with a 10-2 league slate, and avenge a loss to the Lady Cardinals back on Sept. 15.
Bishop McGuinness (12-3, 10-1) appears set to win the conference, pending the outcome of a match with last-place Walkertown on Thursday. Mount Airy (20-2, 10-2), will claim the No. 2 seed, and East Surry (13-3, 9-3) will represent the league as the No. 3 team.
Thursday’s match was played with the second seed at stake, and both teams approached it with a playoff-like atmosphere. Indeed, both Pell and East Surry coach Ashley Powell commented on just how well both teams were performing.
The Nos. 1 and 2 singles went a long way toward deciding the outcome. At No. 1, Marion was matched against East Surry’s Tiffany King this time around. King won the first three games, but Marion ran off six straight for a 6-3 win.
In the second set, King came out strong and won three of the first four games, including a service break, which set the stage for a wild finish in which both players had problems holding serve. Marion, down 1-3, reeled off a love game and then broke King, losing just one point in the process. Back on serve, she won again to move ahead 4-3, but not before King forced her to a second deuce.
King wasn’t finished, though. She won on serve and then broke Marion to regain the lead, only to see the latter respond in kind, breaking King to tie it at 5. At 5-5, King had another break point of her own, but Marion forced a deuce and then won the game before finally winning on serve for a 7-5 set win.
The No. 2 singles was even closer, with Makayla Keener taking a 6-2 first set win over Coleman Craddock. This appeared to be a win for the Cardinals, but Craddock matched her victory for victory in the second set, and eventually forging a 6-6 deadlock to force a set tiebreaker, which she won 7-2. Suddenly finding herself with all of the momentum in the match, Craddock dominated the third-set tiebreaker 10-4.
All of the other singles matches were already completed, and Mount Airy, which at one point had trailed in four of the six singles matches, found itself needing just one doubles win to decide the issue.
Brintle’s absence forced Pell to change his doubles lineup, but the switch didn’t seem to affect the Bears. Maya Hicks and Elizabeth Bray jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead over Allie Hawks and Klaudia Tucker at No. 2 doubles, while Marion and Craddock won four consectuive games at No. 1 doubles after trailing 3-4.
Meanwhile, Logan King and Elizabeth Omuro, who had had falling behind 5-2 to Mikayla Manuel and Abigail Martin at No. 3, had to take a break and cheer on their teammates when conditions on the secondary court, which lacks lights, became too dark to play. It was left to Hicks and Bray to finish out their match with a 10-2 win and clinch second place in the conference for Mount Airy. Marion and Craddock completed a 10-7 win over King and Keener, both of whom played exceptionally well all evening but had nothing to show for it.
The match was decided, but the No. 3 doubles was played to a decision, and King and Omuro rallied to win 8-5. This was the first loss of the season for Manuel and Martin.
Omuro made her court debut for the Bears, one day after earning two wins by default against Winston-Salem Prep. At No. 6 singles, she forced a match tiebreaker after ralling to win the second set against Haley Jannelle at No. 6 singles, but lost 6-2, 3-6 (10-6). At No. 3, Hicks beat Hawks on a tiebreaker, 6-3, 3-6 (10-4), winning seven of the last nine points.
King and Tucker played a barnburner of their own at No. 4, where Tucker broke King at 4-4 in the second set and went on to force the tiebreaker. King outlasted her opponent for a 6-2, 4-6 (11-9) win. At No. 5, the Cardinals’ Manuel scored a 6-1, 6-3 straight-set win that briefly gave them a 2-0 lead in singles matches before the Bears got rolling.
Mount Airy will host the conference tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the state playoffs begin the following week.
Reach John at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @johncate73.