COLUMBUS — The Lady Cardinals are one win away from Burlington.
The state’s second-ranked 1A tennis team had to travel for Monday’s state quarterfinal match with Western Highlands Conference champion Polk County, but the two-hour bus ride was no problem for East Surry, which took the first two doubles matches and advanced to the West Regional final with a 5-3 victory over the Wolverines.
The Lady Cardinals’ No. 3 doubles team of Carson Payne and Lili Craven punched the team’s ticket to the regional final when it wrapped up a 10-7 victory over Polk’s Julia Griffin and Virginia Rostick. It provided a measure of revenge for the East Surry team, both of whose members had lost to those same Polk players in the singles part of the competition.
East Surry, now 17-3 on the season, will host Bishop McGuinness on Wednesday afternoon in yet another all-Northwest Conference regional final. It will be the fourth match between the league rivals this season. The Lady Cardinals won 5-4 in Kernersville on Sept. 7, but the Villains (17-3) avenged that defeat with a 6-3 victory in Pilot Mountain 19 days later. This meant the teams shared the NW1A title for 2017, but they decided to settle the No. 1 seed by playing a third match with each other on Oct. 9 on the Mount Airy courts. Bishop had won the second meeting with a revamped doubles lineup that swept those matches, but East Surry adjusted to the shuffled lineups and won two of the three doubles in the tiebreaker, winning the match 6-3.
The Villains duly entered the playoffs as the Northwest No. 2 team, but downed Elkin 5-2 in the opening round of the playoffs. In the second round, they traveled to previously unbeaten Gray Stone Day and scored a 5-4 victory, then returned home to face league rival Mount Airy on Monday. The Lady Bears had made an impressive run from wild card to the elite eight, but fell 5-2.
On Monday, East Surry and Polk County split the singles matches 3-3, with the key match being the No. 5 singles between the lady Cardinals’ Haley Gilley and the Wolverines’ Bella Marino. At the time, all of the first four singles matches were in the books and the teams were tied 2-2. However, Rostick was beating Craven at No. 6 from the get-go, meaning that Gilley needed to win at No. 4 in order to keep East from being down 4-2 and having to sweep the doubles.
Gilley got up two breaks in set one and prevailed 6-2, but Marino returned the favor in set two and forced the match to a tiebreaker. But Gilley righted the ship and earned the 6-2, 2-6, 1-0 (10-7) victory, which resulted in a singles split for East when Rostick finished off her 6-2, 6-4 win over Craven shortly after.
Gilley’s win was important because of the strength of Polk County’s No. 1 doubles team. Last weekend, Hannah Jenne and Tana Harris combined to win the 1A state championship in doubles. In the semifinals, they had defeated none other than East Surry’s Haley Jennelle and Sarah Mann in three sets, and these teams were looking at a rematch on Monday. While Jennelle and Mann welcomed the chance to avenge their loss, East Surry didn’t want its fate riding on that outcome.
As it turned out, the rematch was never completed. The Lady Cardinals took a 4-3 lead in the match when Abigail Martin and Gilley pummeled Haven Dufford and Marino 10-2 at No. 2 doubles. Payne and Craven wrapped up their match before the No. 1 teams could finish theirs, and by rule, a match ends in the playoffs when one team has five match victories.
In the singles matches, Jenne got the better of Jennelle at No. 1 singles, but Mann lost just two games in defeating Dufford at No. 3 to even the team score. East Surry took a 2-1 lead when Martin defeated Harris 6-0, 6-3, but Griffin stayed a step ahead of Payne throughout the fourth singles and won 6-3, 6-4.
The winner of Wednesday’s match between East and Bishop will advance to the state championship on Saturday at the Burlington Municipal Park tennis courts.