The Toll Gate tennis team edged Narragansett 4-3 in the regular season finale, but head coach Gary Gorman knew if the two teams met again, the rematch would be like a flip of the coin.
Unfortunately for the Titans, the flip didn’t go their way.
Facing the Mariners in the Division II championship on Saturday at Slater Park, the previously unbeaten Titans suffered their first loss of the season at the worst possible time. Narragansett got a surprise victory at No. 1 singles and a nail-biting win at No. 2 doubles plus victories at No. 3 doubles and No. 2 singles to capture the championship by a 4-2 score.
The one unfinished match was shaping up as a Toll Gate victory, meaning the championship would have ended with another 4-3 decision.
This one just didn’t go Toll Gate’s way.
“It was going to be a coin toss,” Gorman said. “Heads or tails today. That’s tennis. You just never know.”
Three matches yielded different results than the regular season meeting. One went Toll Gate’s way but the other two went to the Mariners. Added together, they gave Narragansett the points it needed. At No. 1 singles, Olivia Scalora beat Caroline Waggoner 6-3, 6-3 after losing in three sets in the regular season. While Toll Gate’s Jackie Falso and Jen Schaad turned things around for a win at No. 1 doubles, the Narragansett tandem of Ashley Kennedy and Brooke McGreen – whose loss sealed the defeat to Toll Gate in the regular season – posted a win at No. 2 doubles.
“We lost to them 4-3,” said Narragansett head coach Peter Barlow. “It’s a pick-em match. It’s girls’ high school tennis. It’s not really predictable. I tried to figure out where the points where and I was totally wrong where we got points. That’s just the nature of the beast. But we’re happy we got the points we did.”
Toll Gate put the first points on the board when Mackenzie Kelly beat Kristen Gershkoff 6-2, 6-0 at No. 3 singles. The Mariners then tied the match when Sarah Hoxsie and MacKenzie Page topped Anna-Rose Pearson and Addie Lamothe 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3 doubles. Back on the singles court, the Mariners took the lead with Scalora’s surprise victory at No. 1.
“The surprise here was one singles,” Barlow said. “Olivia lost in three sets last time. She came back and played very well.”
But there was still a lot of tennis left – the other four matches all went to three sets. Toll Gate struck the first blow when Falso and Schaad came back after blowing a second-set lead to win the third set 6-3. They won the match 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.
Just seconds later, on the adjacent court, the closest set of the night came to a dramatic end. At No. 2 doubles, the Titans’ duo of Abby Ellis and Laurel TenEyck – heroes of the regular season victory over Narragansett – had rallied from a 6-3 loss in the first set to win 6-0 in the second set. But the third set was nip-and-tuck and went to a tiebreak. Each team had two match points before Kennedy and McGreen rallied from a 9-8 deficit to win the next three points. They clinched the victory when a volley by TenEyck landed just inches past the end line.
“Both of our losses this season, the second doubles team lost for the clinching points,” Barlow said. “It was great to see them come back.”
With Schuyler TenEyck on the road to a victory at No. 4 singles, the No. 2 doubles match loomed as maybe the key point. The Titans had been at match point twice in the tiebreak and once when they led 6-5.
“We should have had it in second doubles,” Gorman said. “We had three match points at No. 2 doubles and it looked like Schuyler was going to win at No. 4. Consider that maybe missing it by a point, the way it was rolling.”
The Titans still had life thanks to a gutsy effort by Arianna Rizzo at No. 2 singles. A 6-2, 6-1 loser in the regular season, Rizzo rallied from a 7-5 first-set loss on Saturday to win the second set 6-4. In the third set, she led 4-2, but Narragansett’s Eileen Sullivan won the next two games to even the score at 4-4.
Rizzo won the next game to take a 5-4 lead, but facing elimination, Sullivan surged. She took a 40-love lead in the next game, lost one point but then came back with a winner to tie the set at 5-5.
Sullivan then broke Rizzo’s serve for a 6-5 lead and clinched the match – and the championship for her team – when she capped a long rally at 40-30 with a forehand winner.
“Hat’s off to the Rizzo girl,” Barlow said. “To lose to someone two and two and come back to lose 7-5 in the third set – that’s very impressive. She played very well.”
But ultimately, it wasn’t enough for the Titans. The Mariners stormed onto the court and celebrated the title. It’s the first girls’ tennis championship in school history, and it represented quite a redemption tour. The Mariners lost to Westerly and Toll Gate in the regular season – and beat both those teams on their way to the title.
“After the first match with Toll Gate and Westerly, even though we lost, I liked the match-ups,” Barlow said. “Toll Gate was undefeated. Kudos to them. I’m very happy for my girls right now.”
The Titans, who were seeking the school’s first girls’ tennis title since 1991, had to settle for memories of a special year. The 12-0 regular season was the program’s best in more than a decade.
“We won Thursday, they won today,” Gorman said. “I wish it was flip-flopped but it was still a good season. It was really a good year. I just feel bad for them. I’ve been through it all my life. They’re the ones that are heart-broken. It’s going to be a long bus ride.”