PILOT MOUNTAIN — It’s official. East Surry is the best of the West when it comes to tennis this fall.
Now, it’s their turn to see if they can become the best in the state.
The Lady Cardinals became the third different team out of the Northwest 1A Conference to earn a trip to the state championship match in the past three seasons, downing league rival Bishop McGuinness 5-3 on Wednesday evening in the West Regional final.
It was the fourth meeting of the season between East Surry (18-3) and the Villains. The teams split the regular-season matches, each winning on the other’s court, and then played a third match at a neutral site to decide the top seed for the playoffs. East won that match 6-3 on Oct. 9, a win that allowed the Lady Cardinals to host on Wednesday when the teams met again in the state semifinals.
Awaiting East Surry in the state championship match is Raleigh Charter (14-0), the defending state champion. The Phoenix earned a return to the finals on Wednesday with a 6-0 shutout of East Carteret. Raleigh Charter has been in the championship match in each of the last three seasons, falling to Bishop in 2015 before beating Mount Airy a year ago.
For the Lady Cardinals, getting to the championship match was a difficult fight in which the team had to defeat the Nos. 3 (Bishop), 4 (Mount Airy), 6 (Polk Co.), and 8 (East Wilkes) ranked 1A teams at some point during the season. And they had to do all of this while dealing with unexpected coaching changes at the start of the season. East Surry AD Randy Marion had to recruit former East Surry coach Lyndsey Haywood to take over the team after the season had already gotten under way.
Now Haywood and the Lady Cardinals have a chance to be state champions.
“The athletic director told me that the team was good when he convinced me to take the coaching job,” Haywood said. “Now, we have exceeded many people’s expectations. I have said a lot of prayers while analyzing countless hours of nerve-racking tennis.”
The regional final came down to the doubles matches, just like East’s first three showdowns with Bishop. When the teams met in Pilot Mountain the first time, back on Sept. 26, the Villains swept the doubles matches and won 6-3. This match played to the same script in the singles, where each team won three matches. However, the Lady Cardinals were ready this time.
The No. 3 doubles match pitted Carson Payne and Lili Craven against Bishop’s Megan Standen and Olivia Kennedy. Payne and Craven had both lost in singles, but as a team, they redeemed themselves and scored a 10-7 victory that put East Surry one win away from Burlington. The Nos. 1 and 2 doubles were still going on, and it was the No. 2 that wrapped up first, after going beyond the regulation 10 points to determine the winner. Abigail Martin and Haley Gilley outlasted Lydia Cortes and Michelle Petrangeli 11-9 to end the match. The No. 1 doubles match was not completed.
The Villains (17-4) started off well. East Surry’s Sarah Mann annihilated Claire Rogers 6-1, 6-0 at No. 3 singles to get her team on the board first, but Bishop’s Petrangeli returned the favor against Payne at No. 4, tying the match with a 6-0, 6-1 win. The Villains went up 2-1 after Charlotte Dabar completed a 6-3, 6-1 win over Craven.
It would be the only time Bishop led the match. Shortly after that match ended, Gilley walked off the court as a 6-3, 6-1 victor over Standen at No. 5 singles. The only two singles matches left on the court were the 1 and 2.
Martin finished up at No. 2 first. She claimed a hard-fought 6-4, 6-4 victory over Cortes. East had a chance to take a commanding 4-2 lead in the singles, with the Lady Cardinals’ Haley Jennelle in a tight battle with Becky Auger. In the final meeting between the long-time rivals, Jennelle won the first set, Auger the second, and the match tiebreaker went to the Bishop No. 1 by a narrow margin, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 1-0 (10-7).
The championship berth would go to whoever could win two of the doubles, and that was the team in red.
“The players have matured mentally and physically over the course of the season,” said Haywood. “I am very proud of them and hoping for great results on Saturday against Raleigh Charter.
“God has smiled on us. This has been an amazing season!”
The Lady Cardinals will try to bring the title home on Saturday morning, beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Burlington Tennis Center, located in that town’s municipal park.