Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bengals Come Back to Defeat Stingrays for Girls USTA National Spring Team Championship Title

©Colette Lewis 2017--
Mobile, AL--

left to right: Walrath, Jones, Benabraham, Armistead, Mize, Briggs, Kerr

The sun made a comeback on the final day of the girls USTA National Spring Team Championships and so did the Bengals, who were down 3-1 when rain halted play Tuesday afternoon.  Needing to win all three singles matches still on court, the Bengals did just that, rallying to close out the Stingrays 4-3.

The Stingrays were only three games from the title, with Carmen Corley leading the Bengals Carly Briggs 7-5, 3-4 at the 16s line 1 when play resumed at the Mobile Tennis Center. Corley held for 4-4 and Briggs won her next service game easily, putting the pressure squarely back on Corley.  At 30-all, Corley netted a forehand to give Briggs a set point, and a double fault followed, giving the Bengals the split they had to have.

"They came out on fire," Bengals coach Seth Walrath said. "I was a little worried, because it was a morning match, our first morning match all week. But they brought really good energy."

As for Briggs, Walrath said she was disappointed to lose the momentum she had gained in the second set Tuesday afternoon but didn't dwell on that.

"She came out fired up, and tactically she did what we talked about," Walrath said. "She was patient, she threw in the slice a little bit and moved the other girl, who had very big shots. There was no reason for [Briggs] to try to outhit her opponent, she just had to weather the storm."

The Bengals had taken the opening set in the other two matches, so the task of Jennifer Kerr at the 18s line 1 and Mary Grace Armistead at the 14s line 1 was to close out their opponents.  That proved easier said than done however.  Kerr served the match twice against Kolie Allen, who had saved a match point serving down 3-5 in the second. Kerr had three more match points serving at 5-4, but Allen saved them all and held for 5-5.  Kerr got another break and another chance to put her point on the board, and she went up 40-0, but those match points came and went too. The emotionless Kerr didn't show any frustration until she double faulted on her eighth match point, but she quickly regrouped, earning a ninth match point.  Allen forced an error on that one, but a point later Kerr earned her tenth match point, and finally converted, blasting a backhand winner to pull the Bengals even.

While Kerr and Allen were battling through their last three games, Armistead had come from 3-1 down in the second set against Eleana Yu, winning five straight games to post a 7-5, 6-3 victory at the 14s line 1.  Armistead won all eight of her matches in the tournament, and was the hero of the Bengals 4-3 semifinal win over the Sharks late Monday night, winning the last match on in three sets.

"I'm very comfortable in that situation," said the 14-year-old from Hilton Head South Carolina. "I've done team sports before, so it's normal for me. But I couldn't do it without my team."

Armistead is also not likely to panic when she's behind.

"I was down three times in the tournament and I won five games straight in every one of them," Armistead said. "Against Saige Roshkoff, I was down 6-4, 5-2, 15-40, she had three match points, and I won the set 7-5. So I know, if I start losing, there's opportunities to come back, I know I can come back."

"Mary Grace is a pistol," said Walrath. "She's a pistol and she's a fighter. In our second round against Saige Roshkoff, she was down a set and 5-2 and she comes back to win the match. Every little step along the way, in a team environment like that, you might get a little lucky sometimes, but every single person on this team contributed."

After Kerr had made it 3-3, Corley was serving down 3-4. She was broken at 30-40 and Briggs was able to serve out the only three-setter of the final 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.

"These girls have been amazing," said Walrath. "When ever somebody has gone down, somebody else is there to pick it up. I still think it came down to our chemistry. And hopefully they have made a couple of friendships here that last."

Stingrays coach Chris Kwon knew there was much work to be done when his team returned to the courts this morning, despite the 3-1 lead.

"I knew there were three close matches and they could go either way," said Kwon, a private coach from Boca Raton Florida, who was participating in the tournament for the first time. "We could have won all three or we could have lost all three, which we did. But I just wanted them all to start as fast as possible, have a great mindset and a goal they wanted to accomplish, execute, leave it all out there. That's exactly what they did and I'm proud of all my kids."

The bronze medallions went to the Angels, with Zoe Howard defeating the Sharks' Malaika Rapolu 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-0 at the 16s line 2 to clinch the 4-3 victory.

The sportsmanship award went to Ellie Wright of Gainesville Florida, who played for the Red Hawks.

Complete results from all eight matches played today can be found at the TennisLink site.

GIRLS FINAL: Bengals 4, Stingrays 3

Kolie Allen and Catherine Gulihur(Stingrays) def. Jennifer Kerr and Sydney Jones(Bengals) 6-2
Carmen Corley and Casey Accola(Stingrays) def. Carly Briggs and Kelsey Mize(Bengals) 6-3
Mary Grace Armistead and Daniella Benabraham(Bengals) def. Eleana Yu and Rebecca Lynn(Stingrays) 6-3

1. Jennifer Kerr(Bengals) def. Kolie Allen(Stingrays) 7-5, 7-5
√2. Catherine Gulihur(Stingrays) def. Sydney Jones(Bengals) 6-1, 6-1
3. Carly Briggs(Bengals) def. Carmen Corley(Stingrays) 5-7, 6-4, 6-3
√4. Kelsey Mize(Bengals) def. Casey Arcola(Stingrays) 6-2, 6-2
5. Mary Grace Armistead(Bengals) def. Eleana Yu(Stingrays) 7-5, 6-3
√6. Rebecca Lynn(Stingrays) def. Daniella Benabraham(Bengals) 6-0, 6-1

Order of finish:
Doubles 1,2*,3
Singles  2,4,6,5,1,3*

*clinching match
√completed Tuesday