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Tennis: Oak Ridge falls short in section finale

Oak Ridge junior Hannah Crookham. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum

HANNAH CROOKHAM, pictured earlier this season, and the Oak Ridge tennis team lost the battle with Del Oro for the Division I section tennis title Wednesday. Democrat photo by Krysten Kellum

By
From page A9 | November 15, 2013 |

LOOMIS — Wednesday’s tense match between visiting Oak Ridge and Del Oro to determine Division I Sac-Joaquin Section tennis title came down to doubles play — the Lady Trojans and Golden Eagles both seeking their second banner.

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With three matches left, the team that won 2-of-3 took the prize. Del Oro’s victories at No. 1 and 3 — and resulting 5-4 decision — denied Oak Ridge’s bid for its first D-I championship. Troy won the D-II title in 2006.

“(Tuesday’s semifinals) we had four three-setters and won three, today there were five and we won two. In a close championship match, it tends to be the team that finds a way to win the tight matches (that wins) and it just didn’t happen today for us,” Trojan coach Ralph Clark said. “Coming in, I felt good about No. 3-6 singles but knew No. 1 and 2 would be hard. Someone from the other five (matches) had to find a way to win but the pre-plan didn’t come together.”

Less than 24 hours after its thrilling one-point victory in Tuesday’s semis against Rocklin, the Delta River League champs made the trek to Loomis for the program’s fifth finals appearance, fourth under Clark.

Wednesday’s match — witnessed by half the Del Oro student body — began in daylight and ended under the lights. After singles play split 3-3, doubles pairs took to the court. Troy trailed 4-3 after Del Oro won No. I doubles — shifting attention to No. 2 (Emily Abraham-Heather Dunham) and No. 3 (Ashlee Gonzales-Kelly McMillen).

Each school owned a first-set win, Oak Ridge’s by Abraham-Dunham (who eventually won). Down a set, Gonzales-McMillen dug deep to pull out the second set and fought in the third before a rocket return that split the Trojan duo went for match point as teammates, fans and friends rushed to celebrate with the Eagles’ No. 3 team of Elene Topete and Marcie Schmidt.

One nerve-racking match featured Trojan freshman Madeline Almeida (No. 1 singles) against Abby Bacharach (see A-9 sidebar). Almeida, whose belief in herself outweighed anything else — including Wednesday’s hostile environment — overcame an early deficit with steady, smart play to stun the section’s top player 0-6, 6-4, 7-5.

“I played more consistent in the second set and I think I was more determined, telling myself  ‘I have to do this for my team,’” Almeida said. “It’s my biggest win of the season.”

Oak Ridge grabbed the first lead. In No. 2 singles, Teja Chalamcherla quickly wrapped up her 6-1, 6-0 win but Miranda Miller’s setback at No. 6 singles enabled Del Oro to tie.

Trojan Hannah Crookham (No. 4 singles) was on her way with an opening set victory before unforced errors proved her undoing. Rachel Librach (No. 2 singles) battled back to win her second set but lost the third. At No. 5 singles, Oak Ridge’s Kassidy Lyons fended off Grace Berry 6-2, 7-5.

Librach was the hero Tuesday in a stressful, three-set 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 comeback win with the season hanging in the balance — the winner coming after a lengthy rally.

“I tried to block out the pressure and focus on my shots,” Librach said. “There was nothing I could change to hit stronger than her (Molly Garcia-Kaer) but I stayed consistent, the team supported me, I kept telling myself  ‘do everything to not let her get a point’ and I played every point as if it was my last.”

Against Rocklin, Oak Ridge lost seven of the first nine sets. At one point the team trailed 1-3, was ahead in one match but fighting in the other four to force a third set and stay alive. Crookham’s comeback 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win was key as was Gonzales-McMillen winning the 7-4 tiebreaker to take their three-set match 1-6, 6-4, 7-6.

The Trojans are in line for one of two NorCals slots. Del Oro automatically gets in while Oak Ridge plays at D-II champion Bella Vista today at 1:15 for the second spot.

See box scores in Roundup.

 

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