Young Trojans bow out

The Center Grove High School girls tennis team came oh-so-close to advancing to the IHSAA State Semifinals.

How close? With the match tied at 2-2, the South Bend St. Joseph No. 1 doubles team staged a major rally for a three-set victory to earn the fourth-ranked Indians a decisive point in a 3-2 victory against No. 10 tournament-host Center Grove in Friday’s quarterfinals.

St. Joseph (18-2) will play No. 6 Jasper (19-3) in the state semis today at North Central High School.

“It was a tough battle up and down, which we knew going in,” said Center Grove coach Debby Burton, whose team finished 17-4.

“We had a great season. I told the girls they needed to celebrate the accomplishments they had this season, getting to the state finals. That’s something to be proud of,” Burton said. “So celebrate the successes we had and then get back out there and work on the things you didn’t like and the endings. Then figure out how we’re going to fix them because we lose one player (to graduation).

“We got nine girls a lot of varsity time this year, so it’s something to work toward. So we’ll take a few days off, catch our breath and go from there.”

The Trojans only lose senior Madison Smeathers, who played No. 2 doubles.

Center Grove’s No. 1 doubles team of junior Bailey Sammons and sophomore Cassidy Hardin captured the first set 6-0 and were leading 5-1 in the second set when the Indians’ duo of senior Cecilia Pekarek and junior Talle Corrigan won the next six games to take the second set. The Indians won the third set 6-4.

“We got a little tight during the second set and we let go of our momentum, so that’s something we got to work on,” Burton said. “Hats off to them; they played a great match.

“We lost six straight, so not sure which players were going to show up for the third set. We showed up and played hard.”

All the other matches were decided in straight sets.

At No. 2 singles, Trojans junior Maddie Weeks topped St. Joseph senior Mary Mullaney 6-4, 6-2.

“Maddie is a beast; she’s unbelievable,” Burton said. “We just moved her up at the end of the season. We had to make some changes, and we moved her up and she’s been remarkable.”

Center Grove got its other point at No. 2 doubles, where Smeathers and junior Carleigh Hardin downed Mary Lyon and Nicole Pascual 6-4, 6-3.

“They rode some up-and-down waves, but they finished strong and closed,” Burton said. “We knew there would be momentum shifts in some of these matches, and it wasn’t going to be walk out there and cruise like we did in some of the earlier rounds of the tournament.

“I’m just so proud of them for being mentally tough to do that.”

At No. 1 singles, Center Grove sophomore Isabella Schoolcraft lost 7-5, 6-1 to Madelyn Yergler.

“Even the 6-1 set, it wasn’t like she was getting blown out,” Burton said. “She battled to the end. I’m so proud of (Schoolcraft). She is a tremendous leader for this team.

“She knows the game so well and pushes the girls. They really listen to her and truly respect her.”

At No. 3 singles, St. Joseph senior Maria Anthony was a 6-0, 6-1 winner against Center Grove freshman Ellie Strube.

St Joseph coach Bill Mountford had plenty of praise for Center Grove.

“Hats off to the Trojans,” Mountford said. “I know how good they are going to be next year. Whatever scouting I got on them is they were really tough competitors and great athletes, and they absolutely gave us everything we could handle.

“They played a really great match. I’m proud of my girls obviously because that was not an easy one to win.”

Mark Ambrogi is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.