Yuma girls tennis ousted in first round of state playoffs
When the final match ended and it turned out the Yuma girls tennis team had narrowly lost 5-4 to Phoenix-Central in the first round of 5A state playoffs Tuesday, Central coach Jerry Fiedler had a look of relief on his face.
"It couldn't have possibly been any closer," he said. "I thought our season was coming to an end."
Just three games ended up being the difference between which team advanced. The teams were tied at 4-4 with the final doubles match to go. Yuma's Melissa Ruiz and Breezy Alvarez were trailing Central's Emily Yen and Kim Vo 9-7, and with Ruiz serving for the match, Yen-Vo broke Ruiz-Alvarez at love to win for both themselves and the team.
Ruiz-Alvarez had been up 4-1 earlier in the game, but Yen-Vo eventually caught up and won three straight games to finish the match.
"I'm just very upset. There were a couple shots that I think we could've done better," Alvarez said. "But we did try our best."
Before that final match, the Criminals and Bobcats had split their doubles matches. Central's No. 1 team of Stephanie Waugh and Amanda Durfee, both seniors who have been the 5A Southwest Region champions for the past three years, beat Yuma's Krista Duckworth and Jennifer Tade 10-1. Last year Waugh-Durfee made it to the state quarterfinals, where they lost to the eventual champions.
But Yuma's No. 2 team, Gaby Castro and Liz Freeman, won their doubles match 9-7 to tie it up. Although Castro and Freeman lost a 5-2 lead and let their opponents get back to 7-6, they were never really threatened that match.
The teams also split the singles matches, with Central taking the top three spots and Yuma getting the bottom three. At No. 1 Waugh beat Duckworth 6-1, 6-1. Duckworth didn't find her groove all day.
"I just didn't play my best at all today. You have days where you just don't connect," she said. "Maybe it was the wind, but tennis is mental and that's one aspect of my game I have to work on."
At No. 2 Durfee beat Castro 6-3, 6-3 and Yen beat Freeman 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3.
Then it was Yuma's turn to win. Ruiz beat Michelle Ritchie 6-4, 6-4, Alvarez beat Cecily Fuller 7-6, 6-1 and Tade beat Vo 6-0, 6-0 at the Nos. 4-6 spots, respectively.
Although the Criminals lost, Yuma coach John Harris felt they performed strongly as a team.
"They rose to the occasion and met the challenge," he said. "They never gave up. I didn't see any matches where we had mental breakdowns. We were mentally prepared and made adjustments during matches."
Harris said he knew midway through the season that this team could make the postseason, something the Yuma girls haven't done since 1991.
"Halfway in the season I could see it catching on," he said. "We had quality people at all six spots. We saw that we could achieve and started having a sense of the dream to qualify for state."
The Criminals still have five players who qualified for state as individuals.
Pauline Vu can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6883.