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By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
CROZET -- On a hot, sunny Saturday, the heat wasn't the only thing that had Western Albemarle sweating.
Western Albemarle entered the Region II final, having won four straight regional titles. Western Albemarle has won three of the last four Group AA state titles. None of that mattered to Sherando.
Sherando came up short with a 5-4 loss, but walked off the courts proud of what it had accomplished.
"I felt like this was a great achievement for our team," Sherando senior Nick Lee said. "I've been saying since halfway through the season I just wanted to make it to doubles against them.
"We not only made it to doubles, but we pushed them. We had them extremely worried that they were going to lose."
Western Albemarle had good reason to worry. Sherando hung tooth-and-nail with Western Albemarle throughout the match.
The match was played on only five courts. Western Albemarle was able to take the early lead with a victory at No. 5 singles.
Sherando senior Kaleb Nguyen evened things up with a convincing 6-1, 6-1 victory over Cam Scot at No. 1 singles, in just one-hour and nine minutes. Nguyen has played Scot numerous times before, and said Scot was a little off his game in their match.
"I think I played pretty well," Nguyen said. "Cam definitely wasn't playing his best today. He knew that, and I knew that."
At No. 2 singles, Sherando's Trey Scott pulled out a close match against Western Albemarle's Teddy Nelson, 6-3, 7-6 (6).
The second set went back-and-forth throughout. Nelson served for the second set at 5-4, but Scott broke Nelson's serve to even it at 5-5. In the tiebreaker, Scott saw several match points slip away, but regrouped to take a 7-6 lead. Nelson's error was just wide on the final point to end the one-hour 38-minute match.
"I just tried to get every ball in and see if he would make a mistake," Scott said.
Western Albemarle evened things up with a win at No. 3 singles. Andrew Loving beat Lee, 6-3, 7-6 (3) in one-hour and 41 minutes.
Loving served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, but Lee was able to break Loving's serve and eventually force a tiebreaker. Loving took control early in the tiebreaker and held on for the win.
Western Albemarle took a 3-2 lead with a win at No. 6 singles. Sherando had the early edge at No. 4 singles, but Western Albemarle's Will Diamond bounced back against Chris Mikus to force a third set.
Mikus didn't waste time in the third set as he raced out to a 4-0 lead.
Diamond was able to come back and even the set at 4-4, but Mikus responded again. The sophomore won the last two games for a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win in two hours and 15 minutes.
"I think I played well," Mikus said. "He was a really good player. It could have gone either way."
With the match tied 3-3 after singles, Western Albemarle quickly took the lead in doubles. Western Albemarle won at No. 3 doubles to put the pressure on Sherando.
Nguyen and Scott responded at No. 1 doubles against Scot and Nelson. The Sherando pair won the first set and rallied from 4-2 down in the second set. Nguyen and Scott won three consecutive games and held five match points in the 10th game. Nelson eventually held serve, but then came even more drama.
Nelson called for a trainer as he began to suffer from leg cramps. By United States Tennis Association rules, Nelson was allowed to be treated only once. Several times Nelson fell to the ground in pain during the remainder of the match.
Nguyen and Scott were able to take advantage of the injury and pulled out a 6-3, 7-6 (6) win in one hour and 40 minutes.
"They hit some good shots when they needed to, but I think we were able to do the same," Nguyen said. "We got lucky when Teddy started cramping.
"I know I usually try not to think about [an injured opponent], but our gameplan definitely changed after that."
That left the match at No. 2 doubles to decide which team would advance to the Group AA state tournament. Western Albemarle's Long and Diamond took the first set and went up 2-0 in the second set.
However, Lee and Mikus wouldn't go away quietly. The Sherando pair fought back to take a 4-2 lead in the second set.
In a day full of momentum changes, Western Albemarle had one last one up its sleeve. Long and Diamond won the last four games for a 6-4, 6-4 win in one hour and 37 minutes.
"They started taking more time, and slowed down our momentum," Lee said of the last four games. "We tried our best. We played good today, but it just wasn't enough."
The overall match lasted five hours and three minutes. Despite having its season come to and end, Sherando (19-2) was very proud of the season, especially the seniors.
"It was a great way to cap off the year," Lee said. "I played my best, and the team did its best. And that's all you can ask for."