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Any realistic chance the Beddingfield High girls tennis team had of returning to the top of the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference dangled by a perilous thread two weeks ago in Kenly.
Or did it?
The opponent was defending EPC champion North Johnston, and Beddingfield senior Yaqueline Rangel had just lost a third-set tiebreaker to the Lady Panthers’ Samantha Davis at No. 3 singles. It was the third loss in a third-set tiebreak for the Lady Bruins on this day, leaving North Johnston up 4-2 and in need of just one more point in doubles to clinch the pivotal EPC clash.
It never came.
Beddingfield, once it realized hope still existed, did what it has done with its starters through six matches to open the 2018 season. The Lady Bruins turned in a sweep of doubles, rallying back to secure a thrilling 5-4 victory that now has Beddingfield in the pole position for its first EPC title since 2015 and just the third in program history. Thursday afternoon will bear witness to the Beddingfield-North Johnston rematch off Old Stantonsburg Road, where the Lady Bruins can seize complete control of the conference standings. North Johnston sits 7-4 overall, and 1-1 within the EPC. Six conference matches remain for each after North Pitt indicated it wouldn’t field a girls tennis team in 2018.
Such a doubles performance is nothing new for these Lady Bruins, who improved to a whopping 17-1 in doubles outings with the sweep. Beddingfield’s only loss came against Hunt on Aug. 23, where a substitution at No. 3 doubles tagged the only loss on the Lady Bruins’ ledger to date.
“We lost a third-set tiebreak at No. 3 singles and that was the last one to get off the court,” Beddingfield head coach Jeremy Howard recalled. “We were down 4-2, and the air had been let out of their balloon. I turned around and said, ‘Hey, we’ve just got to have them all.’”
Some Lady Bruins were skeptical. Wasn’t the match already decided? Not so, Howard assured.
“A couple of the girls who hadn’t been around tennis long said, ‘Oh, we’re still alive?’” Howard recalled. “It built them back up, and I could just tell their confidence level, they felt like they could get it done trailing 4-2, and Jaylah (Moore) and Cathy (Nicholson) probably made it a little harder at (No. 2) doubles than they needed to.”
Yet Moore-Nicholson, as Beddingfield’s most experienced doubles tandem, found a way to climb back from a 7-6 deficit. The duo came back to claim the final three games, turning in a 9-7 win over NJ’s Davis-Arial Pearce that leveled the match and allowed seniors Karissa Hayes and Yaqueline Rangel to finish it off at the No. 1 spot. Annie Greene and Vanessa Urieta started the doubles rally with an 8-3 victory at No. 3.
Just another day at the office for Beddingfield doubles, right?
“It’s an easy sale because the girls like doing it,” Howard said of doubles play. “They like practicing it and they like all the things that come along with it. All of them really enjoy the net play, so they buy into it very easily. You don’t have to sell it to them because they love it.”
Nicholson, a cross-court shot artist who can induce poor lobs to the rangy Moore at the net, prefers to take more pointed ownership of the final three bouts of a dual-team encounter.
“We put a great emphasis on doubles,” Nicholson said. “When our coach always tells us that we go into singles, we need to do our best to take some pressure off doubles. But when we talk about doubles, we always count it as a guarantee. We ALWAYS count it as a guarantee.”
Howard said that although Nicholson-Moore were nervous trailing at 7-6, they were far from scared.
“It was a lot of pressure on us and we were very nervous,” Moore said. “We just had to talk to each other, calm down and just end this game and get it done, as always.”
Beddingfield will likely deploy a new singles order in the rematch with North Johnston, moving Rangel up to the 2 spot. Moore will play the No. 3 position, and Nicholson will rotate from No. 2 to No. 4. A singles split, or better, is the preference to release some of the doubles tension.
At the other doubles positions, Hayes-Rangel are 6-0 at No. 1, while Greene-Urieta stand 4-0 at the No. 3 position. Greene, a sophomore and the only senior not in Beddingfield’s starting singles order, is also unbeaten through six singles matches. So is Hayes.
Both the Hayes-Rangel and Greene-Urieta pairings are first-year arrangements, borne out of necessity after Alexis Hayes, Karissa’s sister, opted not to play tennis this season. Rangel is in the mix after serving as a manager for the return of Beddingfield boys tennis in the spring. The formation of that team exposed Rangel to the game and quickly acclimated her into a versatile Nos. 2-5 positions for the Lady Bruins.
“I think they’re good combinations, especially Annie and Vanessa,” Nicholson said. “They both have the mentality to get it done and they want to win. Karissa and Yaqueline, they’re probably two of the most competitive on our team. That’s just a great combination Howard picked.”
Wednesday was the first time that Beddingfield returned to the practice court since Hurricane Florence caused a disruption to the area schedule last week and sent Wilson County Schools out of session.
“This week is big,” Howard said. “If we can get this match here and I’m not taking anything away from the rest of our conference, but as long as we play like we’re accustomed to playing, we’re going to be fine.”