Its air of invincibility tested, Center Grove’s doubles team of Isabella Schoolcraft and Cassidy Hardin found itself in unfamiliar territory Friday.
After losing a set for the first time in 21 matches this season, the juniors responded like the state champions they aspire to be with a 7-5, 3-6, 6-0 quarterfinal victory against North Central’s Susan Biederstedt and Autumn Clark at the Doubles State Finals.
Schoolcraft and Hardin (21-0) return to Park Tudor School this morning for a 10 a.m. semifinal against Carmel’s combination of Julia Miller and Grace Marchese.
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Should the Trojans prevail, they play in the state championship match at 2 p.m. against the winner of this morning’s semifinal between Carroll (Fort Wayne) and South Bend St. Joseph.
The prospect of facing an abundance of top-flight competition less than a day after needing 2 hours, 10 minutes to finally dispose of the duo from North Central is very real.
Clark took the court as a defending state champion having paired with Caroline McAuley (now playing at Butler University) to capture the 2016 doubles title.
“We played them in the MIC and it was a tight match — 6-3, 7-6 — so we knew it was going to be tough,” Schoolcraft said. “This week we prepared. We played a ton of sets, and really thought we could come out here and take it to them.”
Actually, it was North Central jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the opening set, but Center Grove held serve with Schoolcraft and pulled even with the Panthers’ Clark serving.
With the score tied 5-5, Hardin held serve and Center Grove picked up the deciding point, breaking Biederstedt’s serve.
North Central took control of the second set by the same 3-1 count, and, again, the Trojans scored the next two points to make it 3-all. This time the Panthers weren’t about to let up, scoring the final three points to force a third and deciding set.
“They’re pretty solid both at the net and at the baseline,” Hardin said. “They move really well. It was definitely a challenge, but we overcame it. For me, at least, because I didn’t play particularly well in the second set, I just needed a fresh start. I was just going to play relaxed, and we knew we could do it.”
Center Grove made a powerful statement in the third set, breaking Clark and then holding with Schoolcraft serving for a quick 2-0 advantage. The Panthers looked to be on its way to picking up the next point, leading 30-0 until a Trojans’ rally put them in control.
“I feel (North Central) is one of our toughest competitors,” Trojans coach Debby Burton said. “It’s just kind of battling the nerves. We played a solid first set, got more nervous in the second and then just did our thing.
“We got Cass moving at the net and Bella hitting some ground strokes, which is what we needed them to do. They did a great job.”
Carmel has mixed up its doubles lineup this season, electing to utilize the talents of juniors Miller and Marchese for the postseason. They improved to 9-0 with Friday’s 6-0, 6-3 quarterfinal triumph against Christian Academy seniors Danielle Summitt and Lauren Winchell.
Asked what she anticipates from the Greyhounds, Burton said, “Another battle.”