08/19/04 — Prep tennis -- Rams top Aycock in battle of tennis titans

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Prep tennis -- Rams top Aycock in battle of tennis titans

By David Williams
Published in Sports on August 19, 2004 1:58 PM

SNOW HILL -- Five hours of tennis between two of the best high school programs in the east came down to a tightly-contested tiebreaker between the last doubles team playing.

Isn't that they way it's supposed to end when Greene Central and Charles B. Aycock get together?

Two great teams played one great tennis match Wednesday afternoon at the Greene County Tennis Center, and in the end it was Meredith Rouse and Sarah Moore hitting more consistent serves that pushed the Rams to a 5-4 win over the Falcons.

"My heart is not ready for that early in the season," said Greene Central coach Donald Clark. "My hat's off to C.B. Aycock today. I thought they thoroughly outplayed us. I'm not sure we deserved to win the match."

The match was a true classic, with both teams splitting the singles matches and quickly unveiling a classic doubles confrontation between Rouse and Moore and Aycock's Raychel Batts and Patricia Owen for the match.

Midway through the match, both teams began to get important, momentum-breaking service breaks that eventually let Rouse and Moore take a 7-4 lead. But Batts and Owen fought back to tie the match at 8-8, thanks to terrific net play and sharp reaction from a team that has only been together less than two weeks.

In the tiebreaker, Rouse came through with solid stroking on the serve to take a quick 3-0 lead. The Pikeville duo scrubbed the deficit down to 3-2, but never pulled even as the Snow Hill pair fended off Batts and Owen and pulled away at the end to take the match.

"When it counted at No. 1 doubles, Meredith Rouse really stepped up for us today and won some mighty big points," said Clark. "I've been talking to her from the start that even though she's a junior on a team with a lot of seniors, being the No. 1 player, she's got to become a leader for us, and she really did that for us today."

"Holding serve got crucial," said Aycock coach Luke Vail. "I think really where we let the match slip away was not so much in the tiebreaker, but when you dig yourself back from 4-7 ... We did a lot of that with just desire, heart and character. Raychel and Patricia were doing well, but we served too many double faults, and I think that was kind of our undoing in the end. That's what puts you behind, the inability to hold serve."

The match began in classic fashion, with the overall talent level of Greene Central showing up in sweeping the lower three seeds of singles to take an early 3-0 lead. Ram senior Holly Mace was notably strong in her 6-0, 6-0 win over Owen.

Batts, a state 3-A finals competitor last season, ran off to a 6-2 first-set win over Rouse at No. 1 singles before Rouse rallied to take a 3-2 lead in the second set. Mixing her baseline game with quick attacks at the net, Batts rebounded to win the last four games and take the match 6-3.

The Nos. 2 and 3 matches concluded after a rain delay. Leslie Sasser took off with a 6-1 first-set win over Moore, but Moore jumped out to a 3-0 second-set lead. Again, Sasser rebounded to sweep the next six matches and take the match. At No. 3, Carlyn Claiborne rallied from a 4-1 deficit to Summer Chase to put the first-set into a tiebreaker, which she won 7-2. From there, Claiborne blew open a 3-4 second set lead to win 6-3.

"I was really proud of Leslie and Carlyn today, especially because of their consistency," said Vail. "They kept the ball on the court. Greene Central really tested that today -- we played some long points and we were always able to come up with the right shot at the right time. That's what really turned the tide of the matches."

Both Sasser and Claiborne utilized patient baseline play, solidly returning shots and waiting for their opponents to make a mistake. It is a trademark of Aycock players, and Clark borrowed it to start a dynasty at Greene Central.

"Ten or eleven years ago, when I got tired of losing, I decided I was going to learn something from Luke Vail," said Clark. "That's why we went to that style -- because that's what wins. Not slamming balls into the net and the fence. Hitting the ball back into the court is what wins."

While he wanted the win, Vail always values the experience of playing a program like Greene Central.

"When you come down to Greene Central, Coach Clark has got an really outstanding team and an outstanding program," he said. "Everybody knows you've got to be playing at your best to win ... it was a great effort in an excellent playoff atmosphere, and a really good match for this time of year."

"C.B. Aycock really showed a lot of heart and determination today," said Clark. "Luke's got another fairly young team, and they really came after us today. That's why we play these matches, for us both to get a test, and we definitely got all the test we wanted and them some today."

Aycock will take on Southern Wayne today at the John Neal Walker Tennis Center at Mount Olive College. Greene Central will host Tarboro today before two big non-conference challenges next week -- road matches at Fayetteville Terry Sanford and Raleigh Broughton.

Greene Central 5, Charles B. Aycock 4

Singles -- Raychel Batts (CBA) d. Meredith Rouse 6-2, 6-3. No. 2 Leslie Sasser (CBA) d. Sarah Moore 6-1, 6-3. No. 3 Carlyn Claiborne (CBA) d. Summer Chase 7-6(7-3), 6-3. No. 4 Holly Mace (GC) d. Patricia Owen 6-0, 6-0. No. 5 Ashley Harrell (GC) d. Laine Purcell 6-1, 6-3. No. 6 Christi Murphy (GC) d. Nicole Taylor 6-1, 6-2.

Doubles -- No. 1 Rouse-Moore (GC) d. Batts-Owen 9-8 (7-4). No. 2 Sasser-Claiborne (CBA) d. Murphy-Carolyn Turk 8-2. No. 3 Mace-Brittany Horton (GC) d. Purcell-Taylor 8-0.