In what will likely go down as the closest match of the season, the Saugus and Hart girls tennis teams battled to the very last set on Thursday afternoon at Saugus High School, with the Centurions squeaking out a 9-9 victory with an 89-82 advantage in games.
Trailing 8-4 after the second round, the Hart team gathered for a players-only meeting before the start of the third round and came out with a vigor that Saugus could not match.
The Indians won five of six sets in the final round, including the last set that went to a tiebreaker between Hart’s No. 3 doubles team of Bree Lemos and Lauren Neal and Saugus’ No. 2 doubles team of Abby Bolks and Emily Belcher.
The Indians were able to tie the score 9-9 but fell short by seven games.
“It was one of the best matches I’ve seen in my whole career, watching both teams fight so hard for so long,” said Hart head coach Allan Hardbarger. “Right before the last round they called a players-only meeting, down 8-4 at the time, I just walked away and let the girls do what needs to be done and it worked.
“It was a loss today, but I think that the girls really came together today. It’s a long season. Hopefully, we take this as a huge opportunity for growth going into the second half of the season.”
Saugus won the first round 4-2, as No. 1 singles player Emily Christensen defeated Hart’s No. 1 Cameron Schwartz 6-1 and No. 2 Maddie Wiseman defeated Hart’s No. 2 Carly Wilkinson 6-3.
Bolks and Belcher won their first set 6-3 against Hart’s No. 2 team of Julia Hannah and Grace Howell. The Centurions’ No. 3 doubles team of Riyana Chhabra and Katrina Yim won their first set 6-1 against Lemos and Neal.
Hart’s No. 3 singles player Bella Cornejo won her first set against Saugus’ No. 3 Natalie Ratzlaff by a score of 6-3. Hart’s No. 1 doubles team of Julia Estrada and Hannah Heiber beat Saugus’ No. 1 team of Alyssa Alvidrez and Katie Denzin 7-5.
The second round was huge for Saugus’ doubles teams, as all three duos won their sets by a 7-5 score.
Bolks and Belcher defeated Estrada and Heiber, Chhabra and Yim defeated Hannah and Howell, and Alvidrez and Denzin beat Lemon and Neal.
Christensen won the other point for Saugus in the second round, defeating Cornejo 6-0.
Schwartz rallied to beat Wiseman 7-5 after trailing 4-5, and Wilkinson came back from a 2-5 deficit to beat Ratzlaff 7-5 to earn Hart’s two points in round two.
“Emily played well and all our doubles played well in the first and second round,” said Saugus head coach Ken Jeffris. “We played well in doubles, but in the third round, we just took our foot off the gas and couldn’t recover. I told the girls that that team fought hard and didn’t quit and we took our foot off the gas and let them back into it and they took advantage. I told them to enjoy the win, but it wasn’t a good win and they need to learn something from this.”
Christensen helped Saugus start the third round off on the right foot, defeating Wilkinson 6-1 to give the Centurions their decisive ninth point.
It was all Hart after that, as Schwartz defeated Ratzlaff 6-3 and Cornejo beat Wiseman 6-1. Estrada and Heiber won their set against Chhabra and Yim 6-2, Hannah and Howell beat Alvidrez and Denzin 6-3 and Lemos and Neal closed out the match with the 7-6 (7-5) tiebreaker win.
“The girls are hungry, they want to see Saugus again as soon as possible,” Hardbarger said. “But we definitely can’t look ahead of ourselves. It’s a long season, anything can happen at any time and we need to keep our focus for the next match.”
Hart will face West Ranch on the road on Tuesday and Saugus will play Valencia at home. Both matches are scheduled to start at 3 p.m.