CARMEL

By late afternoon Friday, the court at the southeastern corner of the expansive Carmel High School tennis complex contained all remaining drama.

It’s where the cheering, fist-pumping and high-fiving occurred as No. 2 doubles tandems representing third-ranked Center Grove and No. 4 Providence valiantly attempted to chase down a decisive third point for their team.

In time, Pioneers players were the ones rushing the court in celebration after the 3-2 victory assured them a spot in this morning’s semifinals of the Girls Tennis State Finals.

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Sealing Providence’s win was the No. 2 doubles team of Natalie Jacobi and Heidi Popson. After dropping the first set 6-2 to the Trojans’ Carleigh Hardin and Ellie Strube, the Pioneers rallied to win the final two 6-2 and 7-5.

Providence appeared in complete control of the third set, leading 5-2. But a furious rally by Hardin and Strube tied it at 5-all before the Pioneers pulled out a match that required 2 hours, 5 minutes to play.

“We played a good first set, and I think we let up a little bit and just got a little tight. Then they played a better second set, had the momentum, and then we had the momentum in the third when we tied it back up,” Trojans coach Debby Burton said.

“That’s the game of tennis. There are lots of ups and downs, and you have to figure out how to weather that storm.”

Providence breezed to victories at Nos. 1 and 2 singles; likewise Center Grove at No. 1 doubles with juniors Isabella Schoolcraft and Cassidy Hardin prevailing 6-1, 6-1.

Knowing her team desperately needed a second point to remain in contention, Trojans senior Maddie Weeks rallied not once, but twice, in No. 3 singles to defeat Providence junior Clare Hooper 6-4, 7-5.

Trailing 4-3 in the opening set and 4-1 in the second, Weeks played her best tennis when things looked their bleakest.

“Probably one of my longest matches of the year,” Weeks said with a laugh. “For some reason, when I was down I had that bolt of energy to get back up. Not just for me, but for my teammates.

“It’s always hard when everyone else is off (the courts) and they’re depending on you. But I think it’s good when you have the pressure. It makes you fight harder for everything.”

Schoolcraft and Cassidy Hardin remain in contention for a state doubles championship. Now 15-0 since being paired midway through the season, they take part in next weekend’s State Singles/Doubles Finals at Park Tudor.

“Halfway through the season we decided to change our lineup with what we thought would be the best lineup to give us the opportunity to compete at this level,” Hardin said. “Our job is to take care of business fast to take pressure off our teammates.

“Isabella has the better ground strokes, so she’s at the baseline more, and I kind of take over the net.”

Friday’s loss ended the high school tennis careers of Center Grove seniors Weeks, Carleigh Hardin and No. 1 singles player Katelyn Gray.

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.