Published: 5/27/2023 6:31:50 PM
Modified: 5/27/2023 6:31:26 PM
BELCHERTOWN – The Western Massachusetts Class B final delivered everything the Belchertown girls tennis team could ask for except the final score line.
Playing No. 2 Ludlow at home, the top-seeded Orioles opposed familiar faces. Many of the players train and compete at the Ludlow Tennis Club. They all took a group photo together after the lineup cards were read.
“This was something we had always tried to script if we could,” Belchertown coach Alanna Grady.
Except for the final act, of course.
The Lions prevailed 3-2 to claim their second consecutive Western Massachusetts championship. The final match at No. 1 doubles decided everything.
Belchertown’s Kasey Gibbons and Amanda Murray won a tense first set 7-6 before Ludlow’s India Iwaniec and Shealee Cavanaugh battled back 7-5 in the second.
The other four position gradually wrapped, and the third set’s magnitude became clear.
“We knew it was us who had to determine it,” Gibbons said. “The pressure was on us to win, and we got that close. That shows us that we’re worthy, that we could have won.”
Belchertown won the first two games to take a 2-0 lead and held a 4-3 advantage after breaking the Ludlow serve. Both teams struggled holding serve initially, but the Lions closed out the final three games to win the match 6-4. Many of the games went to deuce, and the Orioles survived a match point before falling.
The match lasted more than three hours in the beating sun.
“We’ve had a little bit of practice with endurance, but just the mental endurance of being able to stay in it mentally, is something that isn’t quite put to the test until the moment that it has to happen,” Grady said. “You only get play a Western Mass. final once a year, if you’re lucky, and I’m just really proud of how we all competed.”
Belchertown No. 1 singles player Ava Shea staked the Orioles to an early lead. She bested Ashlyn Keeting 6-0, 6-0 then became a cheerleader.
“I know her playing style, and I knew she was after me,” Shea said. “I just played low stress, didn’t hit it too hard, didn’t hit my serves too hard, just executed and moved the ball around.”
Ludlow took the next two singles positions to move within one match of the title. Malina Dinis prevailed 6-4, 6-1 over Amber Drummond at No. 2, while Gabriella Pereira beat Anna Stamp 6-4, 6-2 at No. 3.
That put the pressure on Belchertown’s doubles teams. The No. 2 pair of Emalee Chaisson and Mia Corish fell 6-4 in the first set against Isabella Cyr and Nina Gomes but took the second set 6-3 and closed it 6-2 to stay alive.
After receiving the runner up trophy, the Orioles kept their heads up.
“We did that,” Shea encouraged her team.
Belchertown hadn’t reached a Western Massachusetts final since 2016 when the Orioles last won a title. Now the Orioles will turn their attention to the Division 3 state tournament. Belchertown is the No. 4 seed and will host No. 29 Dedham in the Round of 32.
“We definitely have the ability. Last year we weren’t even in the finals. I’m taking that as we are improving in every aspect of tennis,” Shea said.
Kyle Grabowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.