Anyone looking for the low point of the Terre Haute South girls high school tennis season could have found it slightly before 4:30 p.m. Friday at Park Tudor.
Its high point? That may have come about a half hour later — unless the events an hour after that added an additional peak, and one that could still be topped today.
In as stunning a turnaround as you’ll find in high school athletics, the still-unbeaten Braves prevailed 3-2 over sixth-ranked, previously unbeaten Highland in a state quarterfinal match.
At 10 a.m. today they go to Indianapolis North Central for the team finals, and they’re not going as an underdog. That’s because 10th-ranked Columbus North upset second-ranked Carmel in the other match Friday at Park Tudor, winning a pair of three-set singles matches long after the fifth-ranked Braves had completed their turnaround. South Bend St. Joseph’s and Center Grove, winners of quarterfinal matches Friday at Carmel, are the other semifinalists.
That opportunity looked a long way away Friday afternoon after Highland’s freshman twins Vanessa and Aby Madrigal put the Braves in a 2-0 hole by winning at No. 1 and No. 2 singles respectively.
Pre-match analysis probably reasoned that the Braves needed a split of those matches to have a chance against the Trojans, who were also unbeaten for the year at No. 3 singles and No. 2 doubles. When South’s top doubles team, Emma Bilyeu and Mallory Metheny, lost their first set — in the match the Braves seemed to have to have — there wasn’t as much sunshine among the red-clad South fans as there was overhead.
But the Braves themselves had done their own analysis, and they had other ideas.
By the time South had fallen into its 2-0 deficit, Bilyeu and Metheny had restored order at No. 1 doubles, winning the second set decisively and taking the lead in the third set.
Jacqualynn Bogle and Lexi Summers, facing the Highland doubles team that hadn’t lost even a set coming into the finals, ended that streak right away but still faced an uphill battle in the second set. Maddie Kesler, after jumping to a quick lead against unbeaten senior Sarah Kitchell — Highland’s No. 1 player until the arrival of the twins — had fought hard to maintain a first-set win and was way behind in the second set. So no South fan was breathing easily.
Bilyeu and Metheny started the turnaround, dropping just three games in the last two sets, winning 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, and keeping their individual state tournament eligibility alive in addition to giving their team a point.
“It was all about getting our footing and our confidence on the court,” Metheny said later. “Once we applied a little more pressure, it helped us get ahead.
“Like I’ve said before, we know what we’re capable of,” she continued. “We just wanted to play clean tennis, not overhit, and play the way we have been … and you always want to get a win for the team, not just for yourself.”
On the adjoining court, Bogle and Summers seemed to be deciding they didn’t want to play three sets, unbeaten opponent or not. They won two games in a row to take a 6-5 lead in the second set, allowed the Trojan team to hold service, then won the tiebreaker 7-5 to win their match approximately six minutes after South’s other doubles win.
“We researched [the Trojans],” Bogle said after the match, “but I don’t their record really scared us. We figured they wouldn’t know what it’s like to be down; we had that mental toughness going for us.”
“I was like, ‘OK, let’s go,’ ” said Summers after she learned the team she and Bogle would be playing was undefeated. “We knew they were consistent, so we’d have to be just as consistent — and take over the net.”
“Being in the [Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference] seems tough at times, and you lose some matches there,” Bogle added, “but it’s definitely worth it … this [postseason] is what really matters.”
“The experience and the difficult teams we came across help us so much at this level,” Summers agreed.
Once the second doubles match had knotted the team score at 2-2, some of the South fans glanced to the next court — and discovered Kesler had turned a 2-5 deficit in her second set into a 6-5 lead. Kitchell held service in the 12th game, but Kesler dominated the tiebreaker and South had won the match 3-2 — less than 15 minutes after being behind 2-0.
“Tennis is a momentum game, and it’s always good to get [momentum] going,” Kesler said after being mobbed by her teammates, “and sometimes you just have to gut it out.”
At 2-5, she said, “I knew my team was expecting me to get off the court. I knew I’d be the deciding match, and I didn’t want to stress anybody out.”
“It was surprising that Maddie [famous for playing fast] was on the court last,” Bilyeu noted, “but that was good.”
“It was a fantastic finish by everybody,” said coach Bill Blankenbaker. “Singles fought hard, and doubles? What do you say? And Maddie Kesler? … Mal and Em were a little loose the first set, but you feel good with a couple of seniors out there.”
Asked about a second straight match in which Bogle and Summers emerged as heroes, Blankenbaker noted, “That was a good win … they are playing more together [that spot in the lineup changed occasionally during the regular season] and they’re getting used to each other. They’ve been very consistent … and again, there’s two seniors.
“You don’t know where you’ll get three points,” the coach said, “but you never get tired of going back to the Final Four.”
“The adrenaline is crazy,” said Summers. “When you win and your teammates win right along with you, there’s not a better moment.”
Terre Haute South 3, Highland 2
Singles — Vanessa Madrigal (H) def. Eesha Purohit 6-1, 6-4; Aby Madrigal (H) def. Taylor Bullock 6-4, 6-2; Maddie Kesler (THS) def. Sarah Kitchell 7-5, 7-6 (7-2).
Doubles — Emma Bilyeu-Mallory Metheny (THS) def. Meredith Garcia-Liz Quinn 3-6, 6-1, 6-2; Jacqualynn Bogle-Lexi Summers (THS) def. Briana Kikalos-Rachel Lenhart 6-3, 7-6 (7-5).
Next — South (19-0) plays Columbus North (21-2) and South Bend St. Joseph’s (19-3) plays Center Grove (18-3) at 10 a.m. today at Indianapolis North Central, with the championship match at 2 p.m. Highland finished 24-1.