By Tommy Keeler Jr.
ALDIE -- Central and John Champe had plenty of momentum swings in their Conference 28 boys tennis tournament semifinal match on Friday. The roller-coaster match went as far as it could possibly go, and in the end the Falcons rode the last wave of momentum to victory.
Central's Sam Barbour and Bobby Loveland pulled out a dramatic three-setter at No. 1 doubles to give the Falcons a 5-4 win and clinch a Region 3A East berth.
"We just wanted to shock the world -- and we did," Loveland said.
Barbour and Loveland defeated Victor Ding and Colton Davies, 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (0). The Central pair dominated in the first set winning in just 19 minutes.
They stayed in front early in the second set as they built a 4-2 edge. Ding and Davies responded with four straight games to force a third set.
Barbour and Loveland took a quick lead in the third set, 4-1, with two breaks of serve. However, Ding and Davies had one more big surge left in them and rallied to take a 5-4 lead. The John Champe pair had two match points in the next game, at 15-40, but an overhead smash by Barbour and a drop shot winner from Barbour helped the Central pair win five consecutive points and tie the set at 5-5.
"I told them they've got to do what they got to do one at a time," Central coach Luke Robinson said. "And let them make mistakes. Once they started letting them make the mistakes they pulled through."
The John Champe pair held serve at love, but Central (7-6) responded with service hold at love to force the tiebreaker.
"I hate tiebreaks, they make me so anxious," Loveland said. "I was really nervous. My heart was beating really hard. Whenever your heart's beating hard, and you're doing a physical activity -- that's just not good. But they were really nervous, too."
The John Champe pair was clearly nervous, as Barbour and Loveland won seven consecutive points to win the one-hour 42-minute match. Four of the seven points came on John Champe errors.
"We just wanted to win," Barbour said. "The tiebreaker showed just how much momentum was key in that match, because we got the first point and didn't lose after that."
The team match was tied 2-2 going into doubles. At No. 3, John Champe's Eric Betsill and Sean Haliyur beat Central's Aaron Taff and Brandon Davis, 6-0, 6-3 to give the Knights (6-11) a 4-3 lead.
The Falcons tied the match with a win at No. 2 doubles as Jimmy Rodriguez and Sam Snarr beat Arjun Harer and Raghava Pamula, 6-1, 6-4.
"Snarr, he helped a lot," Rodriguez said. "He had some good shots, and his serve really just brought us up on top."
Rodriguez played a key role in singles with a three-set victory at No. 4. The sophomore rallied for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Pamula.
"I lost the first set and decided to pick it up a little bit and got back into it," Rodriguez said. "I just started getting a lot of my shots in, and trying to return all the easy shots that I didn't get in during the first set."
Rodriguez led 5-3, but then had his serve broken in the next game. He responded with a break of serve on his third match point.
"Jimmy, the past two weeks has been playing above the level of what he normally plays. Today he kept saying he was tired and I kept saying, 'Jimmy, you gotta fight though it,'" Robinson said. "He pulled through. I'm very pleased with how he played."
Snarr gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Harer. John Champe picked up victories at No. 5 and 6 to take a 2-1 edge.
Loveland tied the match with a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Davies at No. 2 singles.
"The kid I played, he had a beautiful stroke," Loveland said. "I just had to attack parts of his game that weren't as good as other parts."
Barbour lost a three-setter to Ding, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to give the Knights a 3-2 lead.
The Falcons have a very young squad with no seniors and only two juniors in the top six. Central lost to John Champe 6-3 during the regular season, and were a little surprised with the victory on Friday.
"We definitely didn't think we could win this match coming in," Barbour said. "We shocked ourselves."
The Falcons will play at Loudoun Valley on Monday in the Conference 28 final, and will play in the Region 3A East tournament on May 26.
No matter what happens the rest of this season, the Falcons are happy with where the program could go over the next couple years.
"I'm excited for what the future holds, because we are so young and it just gives me hope for next couple years," Robinson said. "This is huge for us."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd