11/07/04 — Falcons fall in eastern regional finals

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Falcons fall in eastern regional finals

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on November 7, 2004 2:03 AM

MOUNT OLIVE - A tournament-tested, offensive-minded operation.

That's how veteran Charles B. Aycock girls tennis coach Luke Vail characterized juggernaut East Chapel Hill - the six-time defending N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A dual-team champion. No one will challenge his assessment after the Wildcats cruised past the Golden Falcons 5-1 in Friday afternoon's eastern regional title match at Mount Olive College.

East Chapel Hill (24-2) battled either unbeaten Hickory or Statesville for the championship Saturday afternoon at the Burlington Tennis Center.

C.B. Aycock, appearing in the eastern final for the fourth time since 1999, concluded the year 21-3.

Vail's description of the Wildcats was accurate. East Chapel Hill had the better talent and was mechanically sound from the forehand and backhand side. The Wildcats continually put short balls away and connected on pin-point passing shots, which forced the Golden Falcons to hit angle shots.

"You ask your players to give their best effort and I thought we got our best effort, but I think what you were looking at is experience," Vail said. "East Chapel Hill has a big experience edge and had played in a lot of big matches. I think our girls were a little nervous to start with. The first sets were not as good as the second sets for just about every player we had out there on the court.

"Leslie (Sasser) is the only player on our team who has been in the final four."

The Wildcats, winners of 38 postseason matches, posted opening-set shutouts in three of six singles matches. Aycock's Carlyn Claiborne (No. 3 seed) and Hadley Peacock (No. 6) each claimed a first-set game against their respective opponents. Claiborne's confidence picked up in the second set as she maintained a one-game advantage against Catherine Meador. Meador, however, regained the momentum and prevailed 6-1, 6-3. Sasser struggled in the opening set against Julia Howard and had no answer for her quick-paced forehand winners that landed either cross-court or down the line.

But Sasser, who endured her first loss in 24 outings, matched Howard stroke for stroke in the second set.

After four court changes, Sasser trailed 4-3. Howard stayed with her game plan and seized the final two games in a 6-0, 6-3 win.

"Aycock got going and really gave us a run there in the second set," Wildcats coach Lindsey Linker said. "There is a lot of fight in Luke's teams always, so we knew we'd have to hang in there and stay focused."

East Chapel Hill prevailed at Nos. 4 and 5 singles for a commanding 4-0 lead.

That left Peacock and top-seeded Raychel Batts on the court as the Golden Falcons' hopes of extending the match to doubles dwindled along with the sunlight on the John Neal Walker Tennis Complex. Peacock fought well against Wildcat sophomore Melanie Watkins, who played consistent on every point and capitalized on Peacock's mistakes.

Batts, coming off a semifinal-round appearance in last weekend's individual tournament, rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the first set against Jackie Colvin. Batts (31-2) led 4-3 and 5-4 before Colvin worked different angles with a slicing approach shot.

Colvin took the pace off Batts' top-spin returns and caused a few unforced errors to move ahead 6-5. Batts forced a tiebreaker at 6-6. Colvin, who scored a 1,460 on the SAT, dominated the tiebreaker 7-3.

"She took Raychel out of her game and made Raychel generate her own pace," Linker said. "Jackie has a wide dimension in her repertoire and she's quick. She just plays intelligent tennis." Batts lost the first game of the second set, but rallied for a 2-1 lead. During the next game, Colvin injured her right ankle. Linker had Colvin stretch against the fence to see how much pressure she could put on her right leg. Colvin walked gingerly on the injured ankle and looked eager to continue, but Linker knew she'd need her top player for the state finals.

Linker walked over to Vail and conceded the match to Batts.

"Raychel was working Jackie hard there at the end of the match and had turned her match around. She was playing really well," Vail said. "I thought the scores were pretty deceiving because our kids played really hard with a lot of heart and a lot of character. They extended East Chapel Hill, kept them out on the court for a good while.

"Leslie and Carlyn played really well in the second set. Nicole (Taylor) ran down a lot of balls. There were a lot of deuce games and that girl worked really hard for everything she got."

Sasser and Peacock, two seniors in the starting lineup, played their final match for Aycock. Fellow senior Patricia Owen, who had shoulder surgery a month ago, cheered for her teammates throughout the afternoon.

2004 N.C. High School Athletic Association

Class 3-A Dual-Team Girls Tennis

Eastern Championship

(at John Neal Walker Center, Mt. Olive)

East Chapel Hill 5, C.B. Aycock 1

Singles -- No. 1 Raychel Batts (CBA) inj. def. Jackie Colvin; No. 2 Julia Howard (ECH) d. Leslie Sasser 6-0, 6-3; No. 3 Catherine Meador (ECH) d. Carlyn Claiborne 6-1, 6-3; No. 4 Claire Darling (ECH) d. Nicole Taylor 6-0, 6-1; No. 5 Tess Darling (ECH) d. Laine Purcell 6-0, 6-0; No. 6 Melanie Watkins (ECH) d. Hadley Peacock 6-1, 6-2.

Doubles -- Not contested.