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Fike High, in the quest for its fourth consecutive Wilson Cup girls tennis championship, wore a target on its chest during Saturday’s championship match at Barton Tennis Complex.
Greene Central, the owner of conference championships in each of the last 24 years but still seeking its first Wilson Cup crown, emerged from doubles play with a noticeable sense of urgency — and a lead.
But the Lady Golden Demons, who trailed but swept doubles play to leg out a 5-4 nonconference win over Clayton two days prior, aptly covered in singles for a lone loss from sophomore Sophia Meszaros at No. 4 singles.
Fike of the 3-A Big East Conference was not challenged in its top two singles spots, and Anna Blair Thomas, the lone senior in the Lady Demons’ starting lineup, served out the clinching game at No. 3 to seize the all-important fifth point in the Demons’ 6-3 victory.
After Hunt won the first two incarnations of the Wilson Cup, Fike has responded by winning four in a row. The traveling trophy, which has not accrued much mileage outside of the Fike attendance area, will require new nameplates for its annual champions beginning with the 2019 tournament.
“I didn’t hit the panic button down 1-2 after doubles,” veteran Fike coach Lee Matthews said. “Because we’re supposed to be strong in singles. We’re finding ways to win matches, and that’s part of the growing process for this group of girls. They’re growing up here, and getting better.”
Indeed, there was a legitimate maturation process in play for the Lady Demons, who had to hold off an inspired group of Lady Rams (2-1) after doubles play. Greene Central of the 2-A Eastern Carolina Conference dropped the 2017 championship to Fike by a 9-0 margin, and with Wilson Cup rules requiring doubles to be played first instead of last, the Lady Rams, now 0-3 in Wilson Cup finals, were able to display what has traditionally been their calling card dating back to the Donald Clark era.
Fike’s combo of junior Logan Adkins and Thomas easily handled the No. 1 doubles spot with an 8-2 win. But Greene Central stormed back at the last two flights, and after sophomore Kaylee Tucker and freshman Venancia Miller held on for an 8-6 win at No. 3, the Lady Rams, along with head coach Tim Medlin, burst into a fist-pumping display of emotion. At that time, the emotional tenure of the match firmly rested with Greene Central.
“We came here thinking we had a shot,” Medlin said. “And it didn’t pan out for us today. Getting two of the three doubles gave us an infusion of spirit and hope, and frankly, if you would have told me we were going to lose five of the six singles, I probably would have put money on it that we wouldn’t. Credit to their experienced players for stepping up and getting a lot of balls back in play. Sometimes the difference between seniors and freshmen showed itself. We’re going to be alright on the season, but certainly a tough one to swallow today.”
The No. 3 singles match that produced Fike’s fifth point was a case study to Medlin’s assessment. On a hot and humid day, Thomas, the senior, legged out a tough 6-4 opening set against Greene Central freshman McKinsey Harper. Thomas trailed 3-2 in the second set before getting a key break and hold of serve to retake the lead. She would maintain her break to 5-4 before serving out the match.
Thomas played in the No. 6 position a season ago before an offseason reshuffling moved her up to the third position.
“That was the chess match,” Matthews said. “Trying to probe and find the weaknesses and what to take advantage of. She kept hanging in there and actually trailed in both sets before getting it flipped over and turning the scorecard around.”
When serving for the match, Thomas faced a break point at 30-40. But what amounted to an audible frame shot on her forehead just cleared the not, and Harper had no return. The next two points ended the match.
“Tennis, it’s like a mental sport,” Thomas said. “It’s all in your head. She had really good serves, but all I had to do was hold my racquet out and let it go back.”
At the top of the lineup, Adkins defeated Greene Central’s Madison Holloman with a 6-2, 6-0 decision. Junior Avery Rose Brown eased past Allana Head with a spotless 6-0, 6-0 win, and junior Mia Hamblin provided the fourth setup point with her 6-1, 6-1 victory against the Lady Rams’ Kaylee Tucker.
“I knew there were going to be some challenges this year with the changing of the guard and the different girls that were used to playing lower in the lineup now are having to play up in the lineup,” Matthews said. “So far, they have answered the challenge and have played very well in their new spots. This one was very special.”
It was career win No. 303 for Matthews, who won his 300th against Corinth Holders in the Wilson Cup opener.
For Greene Central, a potential silver anniversary season with its 25th straight conference title will have to take place without an elusive Wilson Cup title.
“We were hoping to pair it with a Wilson Cup championship,” Medlin said. “But we’ll have to wait another year for that.”
In other matches, Greenfield (1-2) lost the third-place match to Rocky Mount Faith Christian 6-3. Charles B. Aycock (2-1) held off Corinth Holders for fifth place in a 5-4 decision that was contested at the Fike courts.
Hunt-Tarboro, the scheduled seventh-place match, did not materialize after Tarboro informed Wilson Cup officials it would not return following the conclusion of their Wednesday match. The 3-A Big East Conference Lady Warriors departed 0-2 in their Wilson Cup appearance.
FIKE 6, GREENE CENTRAL 3
Logan Adkins (F) def. Madison Holloman 6-2, 6-0; Avery Rose Brown (F) def. Allana Head 6-0, 6-0; Anna Blair Thomas (F) def. McKinsey Harper 6-4, 6-4; Logan Wilson (GC) def. Sophia Meszaros 6-0, 6-0; Mia Hamblin (F) def. Kaylee Tucker 6-1, 6-1; Cappa Hill (F) def. Venancia Miller 6-3, 6-2.
Adkins-Thomas (F) def. Holloman-Head 8-2; Wilson-Harper (GC) def. Brown-Hamlin 8-6; Tucker-Miller (GC) def. Meszaros-Hill 8-6.
FAITH CHRISTIAN 6, GREENFIELD 3
Anna Thompson (FC) def. Avery Vester 6-2, 6-3; Emily Soundergard (FC) def. Ryann Jennings 6-3, 6-3; Jade Pridgen (G) def. Sarah Jeffries Butler 6-1, 6-0; Olivia Pannell (FC) def. Luisa Lee 6-4, 6-4; Kirstyn Jones (FC) def. Alex Garner 6-3, 7-6(3); Mae Pridgen (G) def. Sarah Nelms 3-6, 6-3, 10-6.
Vester-Jennings (G) def. Thompson-Soundergard 8-6; Butler-Jones (FC) def. Pridgen-Lee 8-4; Pannell-Nelms (FC) def. Garner-Pridgen 9-8(5).
C.B. AYCOCK 5, CORINTH HOLDERS 4
Karlyn Ray (CBA) def. Eden Brackman 6-1, 6-2; Abbie Shackleford (CBA) def. Makensie Sawyer 6-2, 6-0; Laney Reeves (CBA) def. Brianna Vonderhaar 6-0, 6-0; Gianna Pettit (CH) def. Grace Mooring 6-4, 6-4; Molly Slemmer (CH) def. Abby Wallace 6-0, 6-1; Deonna Adams (CH) def. Abby Wells 6-0, 6-0.
Ray-Reeves (CBA) def. Brackman-Vonderhaar 8-2; Shackleford-Mooring (CBA) def. Sawyer-Pettit 8-6; Slemmer-Adams (CH) def. Wallace-Wells 8-0.
Hunt-Tarboro not contested.