It is often said that the true character of a team is to see how it reacts when its back is up against the wall confronted by a team that is doing everything in its power to beat it into submission. The defending Central Section Division IV Girls Tennis Champions, Wasco Tigers, had the Panthers in that very position this past Wednesday, but just when Corcoran looked ready to taste defeat for the first time this year, the Panthers clawed their way back and eventually pulled away in doubles to claim the 2016 Division IV Valley Title by the score of 6 – 3.
It was a nail biting, goose bumpy affair all of the way.
Maggie Arrellano gave the Panthers a 1 – 0 lead with a quick 6 – 2, 6 – 1 victory over Sabrina Hernandez in #5 Singles. Having lost her first match of the year in the semifinals, Arrellano would leave no doubt that the sophomore sensation was ready to erase the loss of the previous week and get Corcoran rolling. Interestingly, the score would remain 1 – 0 for over one hour as the next four matches all went to tiebreakers that saw the Tigers win two and the Panthers survive the other two singles matches. In the closest of the tiebreakers, Debbie Martinez lobbed her way back from a 6 – 6 (3 – 7) loss to whip Jocelyn Lule, 6 – 1 in the second set in #2 Singles. The tiebreaker was a back and forth affair with Lule eventually squeaking out an 8-10 victory to tie the match at 1 all. Martinez would avenge her defeat an hour later when it counted the most. Minutes later, Wasco took the lead on Court 1 as Samantha Martinez rolled to a 2- 6 first set win over East Sequoia Singles Champion, Ashley Pappilli, who refused to go down without a fight, winning the second set by the score of 6 – 4 in #1 Singles. Martinez was able to regroup and won a one-sided affair in the tiebreaker, 0 – 10, giving Wasco a 2 – 1 lead. Like her teammate, Pappilli rested after the match and focused on how to beat Martinez and her doubles partner once singles play ended.
The crowd’s attention now turned to Court 3 where Samantha Robles was in the fight of her life, losing 4 – 6 in the first set against Alexandria Biggs. Robles steadied the ship, winning the second set by the score of 6 – 2 to send her match into another do-or-die tiebreaker for the Panthers. In the final set, Robles used a steady barrage of lobs and baseline shots that stymied Biggs who was unable to maintain her composure, falling 5 – 10 in the tiebreaker.
With the overall score knotted at 2 – 2, the Tigers looked to take a commanding lead on Court 5 as Veronica Garcia took down previously undefeated Sophomore, Nayeli Beas for the first time this season, winning the #6 Singles match, 2 – 6, 2- 6. Beas suffered an ankle injury at the beginning of the second set but was able to finish the match and force Garcia to earn every point of this contest and use valuable energy that Beas’ teammates would take advantage of in doubles.
With the Panthers down 3 – 2, all eyes turned to Court 4 where Monica Deloera was in the midst of her defining match of her two-year varsity career. After Deloera won the first set, 6 – 4, Wasco’s, Stephanie Romero turned the tide and defeated Deloera in the second set, 4 – 6. If Romero would have won the tiebreaker, Wasco would have taken a commanding 4 – 2 lead heading into doubles, needing only one victory in doubles to retain its valley title.
Deloera would have none of that.
Overcoming a cheering Wasco crowd, Deloera whipped Romero in the tiebreaker, 10 – 2, and evened the match at 3 – 3 heading into doubles.
“Deloera’s win was a game changer,” noted Coach Lerma. “Had Wasco pulled out that match and gone into doubles ahead, 4 – 2, we would have been in a situation that we had not faced all year long, that being, having to sweep all three doubles matches to earn the team win,” he added.
Since the hot practices of summer, the Panthers have prided themselves in their doubles play. Last Wednesday was their day to harvest the fruit of all of their 7:00 morning practices in the scorching months of June, July and early August. First to take the court were #1 Doubles, Samantha Robles and Senior Captain, Debbie Martinez. The Panther duo were too much for Lule and Biggs, winning in convincing fashion, 6 – 1, 6 – 3.
“Debbie (Martinez) was spectacular playing the baseline,” noted Lerma. “She forced Lule into a lob-a-thon and she is the queen of that masterful chess game. The pace frustrated the Wasco tandem and forced them into mistake after mistake.”
The Panthers were now up 4 – 3 and had the Tigers right where they wanted them. Next up was the Corcoran dynamic #3 Doubles duo that had been nails all year long. Maria Contreras and Mabel Zamora entered the match undefeated in doubles and raced to a quick 6 – 0 win in the first set against Makenzie Salyards and Alexandria Albert. The Tiger squad would not go down easily, taking a commanding 2 – 5 lead in the second set. After a quick timeout, Contreras and Zamora reeled off 5 consecutive games to win the match, 6 – 0, 7 – 5, and give the Panthers their second undefeated valley title of the past four years! “When you have a #3 doubles team such as ours, it is money in the bank that if you win at least two of the six singles matches, Mabel & Maria can get you back in the match. They were stupendous all year long,” stated Lerma.
In the final match of the evening, Pappilli and Contreras nipped Martinez and Garcia, 7 – 5, 3 – 6, 10 – 8 to round out the 6 – 3 Panther victory.
The Panthers end the season as East Sequoia League Champions and Division IV Valley Champions after being moved up to a higher division in 2014. Corcoran’s overall record for the year included 19 wins and 0 losses, tying the 2013 squad that also went undefeated as valley champions.
Coach Lerma was humbled by the victory.
“It is every student-athlete and coach’s dream to play a season that ends with perfection. To go undefeated is a testament to these student-athlete’s work ethic, determination and faith in each other. We have no Venus Williams’ on our squad. Each player’s role is as important as the person playing next to them and throughout the year, this team learned to use basic tennis skills and confidence to win it all. It was an honor to serve as their coach and I put the memories of this season right next to the other four valley titles that I have been fortunate to have been a part of while coaching at Corcoran High School.”