LEMOORE — It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always pretty, but with everything on the line, Lemoore stepped up and found a way to get it done.
The Tigers earned themselves a spot in the CIF Central Section Division 3 tennis championship quarterfinals with a 6-3 victory in the round of 16 over Tulare Western on Thursday.
Lemoore coach Carla Bow breathed a long sigh of relief and said, “That was a tough one.”
The three hour and 45 minute match had everything: straight sets, a tiebreaker and long rallies leaving the viewer wondering what moment would decide the match.
Lemoore (16-4, 10-2 WYL) faced some adversity early on when No. 2 singles player Lizeth Garcia had to retire from her singles match due to injury. Garcia was part of the No. 1 doubles team, with Madison Kuntz, that won the West Yosemite League championship on October 13.
With Garcia out for the rest of the match, Bow had to rework her doubles teams. She was already short a player due to illness and now with Garcia gone, it made things a bit more tricky. But just like her players, Bow stepped up when it counted most.
She paired Mariah Avina — the team’s No. 1 junior varsity player — with No. 1 singles player Kuntz and made them the No. 2 doubles team. The strategy worked with the two clinching the decisive fifth game 6-1, 6-3 and sending them into the next round.
“It makes me very happy because of how much dedication we put into getting this far and now we’re moving on,” Kuntz said.
Kuntz and Avina won both times they were paired together this season, but they hadn’t played a match as doubles partners since September 27 against Mt. Whitney. Nonetheless, their chemistry and communication was nearly flawless on the court.
“I miss my partner, but it was also good to be with Mariah because we’re really good friends and she plays really good on the court and we work together really well,” Kuntz said.
Kuntz added that the team’s mentality did not change
Aside from the injury, things went well early on for the Tigers. Kuntz was her usual dominant self in singles and cleaned up quickly, winning in straight sets 6-1, 6-1.
Lizbeth Flores, the No. 3 singles player, lost 4-6, 1-6, but No. 5 singles player Aliana Cabuhat and No. 6 singles player Paige Clarke came through with 6-2, 6-1 and 6-3, 6-3 victories.
Leading 3-2 in singles, the sixth matchup was a potential tipping point. Lemoore’s No. 4 singles player Jenny Paez and Tulare Western’s Alex Ramirez were locked in a battle.
Patience was key as the two had long rallies, almost as if to see who would break first.
“You have to maintain your focus and it’s pretty hard because your legs are tired, your arms are tired,” Paez said. “It’s just really about focus. I think I had pretty good patience in lobbying back and forth and just not rushing the ball.”
Paez took the first, tiring set 7-5. The sophomore’s legs were tiring, arms starting to flail, but she kept her composure. She stayed focused and ready for the next ball, even after a mistake.
With the final point in the second set, Paez won 6-4 and secured a key fourth singles victory to give her team a 4-2 lead before doubles started.
“I think I did really well in battling and staying in the point for so long,” Paez said. “Patience is what I tried to keep throughout the match instead of getting tired and just wanting to get off court and finish the game.”
The other two doubles matchups featured Flores and Cabuhat as the No. 1 doubles team and Clarke and Jolene Simas as the No. 3 doubles team.
Flores and Cabuhat dropped their match 0-6, 0-6, while Simas and Clarke were in a tiebreaker after splitting the first two sets.
Simas and Clarke won the first set 6-3 and dropped the second 4-6. A tiebreaker to 10 wasn’t enough with how evenly matched the two teams were. An 11th point finished the match and gave the victory to Simas and Clarke (11-9).
The two shared a hug after the match, letting out a sigh of relief after the exhausting day.
Lemoore will travel to Bakersfield to face 4-seed North High School on Wednesday at 4 p.m. North finished 20-5 and a perfect 8-0 in the Southeast Yosemite League.
“The girls battled, they pulled it out, it was just a tougher match,” Bow said. “They executed and came through with the W.”