By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- For the second time in 10 days, Central and Riverheads had a girls tennis match come down to the wire. And for the second time, it was the Gladiators pulling out a 5-4 Shenandoah District victory on Thursday.
Riverheads won close matches at both No. 2 and 3 doubles to secure the team win, and with it wrapped up the Shenandoah District title and Region B berth.
"We had a few chances to get hold of the match," Central coach Jordon Robinson said. "The kids fought hard and we had a good season."
If Central had beaten Riverheads, it would have created a first-place tie and most likely forced a one-match playoff to determine the regional berth. Each team still has one match left in the regular season. The two teams played on May 3 and the match came down to a tiebreaker at No. 3 doubles.
The two teams split their singles matches on Thursday. The Gladiators won at No. 3 doubles and Central followed with a win at No. 1 doubles. That left only the match at No. 2 doubles between Central's Emily Stalbird and Casey George, and Riverheads Allie Casto and Masha Shchenyaeva.
The match went back and forth throughout. The Riverheads pair took a 4-3 lead, but Stalbird and George responded with three straight games to pull ahead 6-4.
The Riverheads pair broke serve to pull within 6-5, but Stalbird and George went up 40-0 in the next game. However, Casto and Shchenyaeva won five consecutive points to even the match at 6-6. The Gladiators broke serve again to take a 7-6 lead and then served for the match.
Once again the Central pair took a 40-0 lead, but this time they closed out the game to even the match at 7-7.
"I was really proud of the way they came back," Robinson said. "They showed a lot of heart to fight back and stay in it to get it to 7-7."
Central fought off a couple of break points in the next game, but a Central error and a volley winner from Shchenyaeva gave Riverheads an 8-7 lead. Shchenyaeva then served out the one-hour, eight-minute match to secure the team victory.
The Falcons took a quick 3-1 lead with wins by Molly Barb, Rachel Leeth and George in singles. The matches at No. 4 and 6 singles were both really close, with Riverheads winning each one.
Riverheads' Mary-Scott Wade beat Morgan Brill at No. 6, 8-5. Wade won the last four games of the match to pull the Gladiators to within 3-2. At No. 4 singles, Stalbird and Shchenyaeva battled to a 6-6 tie. Shchenyaeva hit back-to-back drop shots to break Stalbird for a 7-6 lead.
Stalbird had four break-point opportunities in the following game, but Shchenyaeva fought off each of them and eventually pulled out the five-deuce game.
"That was a tough loss," Robinson said. "But the last time they played, Emily [Stalbird] lost 8-1, so that was a real improvement for her."
The Falcons (6-9, 3-2 Shenandoah) won only two matches last year playing in the Northwestern District and finished seventh. With a young team featuring six sophomores and four juniors, the team is happy with its second-place finish in the Shenandoah District.
"I think playing in single-A has helped us," said Leeth, one of only two seniors on the team. "I think we've all improved a lot. It's a good feeling.
"I think it's a great accomplishment for us. As a senior, it's very exciting and it's nice to end things on a good note."