Falcons sweep 3-A regional crowns
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 24, 2004 9:41 AM
WILSON -- Carlyn Claiborne hugged the gold medal close to her chest.
She looked down, opened the case and adjusted the red, white and blue strap inside. She closed the blue box, an appropriate representation of at least one of Charles B. Aycock's school colors.
Claiborne then smiled.
Never did the Golden Falcon junior, who joined a new partner this season, imagine reaching this point in her career. But Claiborne and Leslie Sasser added their names to the long list of N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A eastern doubles champions to play for Aycock on Saturday afternoon.
The duo remained perfect in 27 outings with a 6-1, 6-4 conquest of Washington's Emily Cochran-Brooke Woolard on the Barton College Tennis Complex courts.
"Coach (Luke) Vail told us the whole time that we're going to do good and we're going to win regionals," a laughing Claiborne said. "We said 'yeah, right, whatever. Thanks for being the optimistic coach.
"He had faith in us and kept us going the whole time."
But Aycock wasn't done.
Sophomore Raychel Batts overcame 73 unforced errors and seized a grueling 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3) victory against nemesis Corrine Langston in the singles championship. It was a rematch of last year's regional title, which Batts took in straight sets.
Vail said it marked the first time in school history that a singles player and doubles team had won regional titles in the same year. Batts also became the first Aycock player to win back-to-back regional championships.
"I was proud of Raychel," Vail said. "Everybody is gunning for you. That was a true championship match coming down to a third-set tiebreaker. There were a lot of big points played."
Langston, who has lost six of seven meetings against Batts, certainly put forth her best effort in the two-hour, 30-minute marathon. A senior at West Carteret, Langston hit just one winner and committed 23 unforced errors in the opening set.
However, Langston (21-2) didn't surrender the first set without a fight. Down 15-40 with Batts on serve, Langston rallied to deuce -- one of five deuces played in the final game. Batts gained the advantage on a forehand error and closed it out with a forehand passing shot to the left corner.
Batts (26-1) experienced nearly the same misfortune in the second set. She yielded a pair of service breaks, committed 20 unforced errors and could never recover from a three-game deficit.
Each player looked tired and played tight on key points in the third set. Batts held serve and seized a 5-3 lead, but Langston took three of the next four games to force the match-deciding tiebreaker.
"She's a senior and she wanted it more. That gave her more motivation because it's her last chance and she really wanted to win," Batts said. "You can't hit in the middle of the court because she's got good ground strokes.
"She will move you back and forth if you keep it center court. You have to keep moving her, make her make mistakes and be very consistent."
Batts effectively used that strategy in the tiebreaker. She seized the first point by pushing Langston out wide and finishing the point with a short volley to the corner. After trading forehand errors, Batts hit consecutive winners -- one in the corner and the other down the line.
"The whole turning point was the fourth point in the tiebreaker when Rachel hit that cross-court winner and Corrine barely got her racquet on it," Vail said. "That swung the momentum back to Rachel. She then won a quick point. I think her tournament experience really played big in the win because she's used to playing big points."
Langston didn't answer and had to settle for the silver medal.
Sasser-Claiborne, who haven't lost a set this season, started the morning with a 6-0, 6-2 decision against Fike's Sarah Farris-Blair Wortham. The victory set up a meeting with second-seeded Cochran-Woolard, a team that Sasser-Claiborne had escaped twice during regular-season play.
Before taking the court for the finals, Vail reminded his players to make shots at the net and be careful placing the ball. Sasser-Claiborne kept the ball away from the net and put the Pam Pack duo in a defensive position, which allowed them to attack the net.
The plan led to a 6-1 opening-set win.
Cochran-Woolard led 2-1 in the second set, which provided a little wake-up call to Sasser-Claiborne.
"I think we got a little bit too confident," Claiborne said. "We had to start playing our game and making careless mistakes. We had to hold it together and not let them run the points."
Sasser-Claiborne regained the advantage 3-2 and the teams split the next four games.
Leading 5-4, Claiborne called for a conservative approach in the final game.
"We told each other that we had to get this game," Claiborne said. "I told Leslie, 'don't try to go for winners. Just get it in and be consistent'."
The strategy worked.
All three players qualified for next week's NCHSAA Championships at the Burlington Tennis Center. First-round play begins at 10 a.m. Friday.
Eastern Wayne's Anna Weeks prevailed 7-5, 6-1 against Aycock's Nicole Taylor in her opening-round match Friday afternoon. However, the senior dropped a 6-0, 6-0 decision to Kinston's Morgan Holloman in their state-qualifying match.
Fellow Warriors Brandi Butts and Lauren Bynum each lost in the first round.
Goldsboro's tandem of Jessica Faison-Quionna Bryant ousted White Oak's Joanne Gallagher-Erica Leffler 6-3, 7-5. Later Friday afternoon, Faison-Bryant shocked the complex crowd by claiming the opening set 6-1 against Cochran-Woolard. But the Pam Pack duo spoiled the upset bid, taking the final two sets 6-3, 7-5.
2004 N.C. High School
Athletic Association Class 3-A
(at Barton College Tennis Complex, Wilson)
First round: Corrine Langston (W. Carteret) d. Corey Clark (N. Central) 6-0, 6-0; Ally Rushing (Hertford Co.) d. Courtney Estes (Jacksonville) 6-3, 6-4; Morgan Holloman (Kinston) d. Mandie Goff (Beddingfield) 6-0, 6-0; Anna Weeks (E. Wayne) d. Nicole Taylor (C.B. Aycock) 7-5, 6-1; Brittany Hignite (HC) d. Catherine Ospina (W. Brunswick) 6-2, 6-2; Andrea Michalak (Hunt) d. Brandi Butts (EW) 6-2, 6-0; Melanie Collins (White Oak) d. Lauren Bynum (EW) 6-3, 6-4; Raychel Batts (CBA) d. Megan Moore (Beddingfield) 6-0, 6-1.
Quarterfinals: Langston (WC) d. Rushing (HC) 6-0, 6-0; Holloman (K) d. Weeks (EW) 6-0, 6-0; Michalak (Hunt) d. Hignite (HC) 6-3, 6-1; Batts (CBA) d. Collins (WO) 6-2, 6-0.
Semifinals: Langston (WC) d. Holloman (K) 6-3, 6-0; Batts (CBA) d. Michalak (Hunt) 6-2, 6-0.
Championship: Batts (CBA) d. Langston 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (3).
First round: Sasser-Claiborne (CBA) d. Keeny-Sanders (So. Nash) 6-0, 6-1; Boelling-Whisler (WC) d. Hall-Akers (WB) 6-3, 6-0; Farris-Wortham (Fike) d. Cox-Peck (Washington) 6-1, 6-3; Letchworth-Narron (WBed) d. Smith-Pritchett (EW) 6-2, 6-0; Peck-Perkinson (Wash) d. Sisler-Burns (HC) 6-4, 6-1; Prince-Cedeno (Fike) d. Mills-Geroniten (Jax) 6-1, 6-0; Faison-Bryant (Goldsboro) d. Gallagher-Leffler (WO) 6-3, 7-5; Cochran-Woolard (Wash) d. Hoggard-Coward (Bertie) 6-1, 6-1.
Quarterfinals: Sasser-Claiborne (CBA) d. Boelling-Whisler (WC) 6-2, 6-2; Farris-Wortham (Fike) d. Letchworth-Narron (WBed) 7-5, 6-2; Prince-Cedeno (Fike) d. Peck-Perkinson (Wash) 6-1, 6-4; Cochran-Woolard (Wash) d. Faison-Bryant (Goldsboro) 1-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Semifinals: Sasser-Claiborne (CBA) d. Farris-Wortham (Fike) 6-0, 6-2; Cochran-Woolard (Wash) d. Prince-Cedeno (Fike) 6-1, 6-2.
Championship: Sasser-Claiborne (CBA) d. Cochran-Woolard (Wash) 6-1, 6-4.
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