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.