WOODSTOCK — It was heartbreak for one team and redemption for another on Thursday night.
Clarke County’s Linus Pritchard and Ethan Ellis bounced back from earlier match tiebreaker losses and won the one that mattered most to lead the Eagles to a 5-4 win over Central in the Sub-Region 2B boys’ tennis final.
“They’ve been resilient all season,” Clarke County coach Forrest Pritchard said of the winning pair. “They’re highly coachable, very intelligent kids. And having this experience is going to be excellent for their self esteem and their self growth.”
The Eagles (10-4) only lost two matches to a school from Virginia during the regular season, and they were both against the Falcons (13-5). Central — which beat Clarke County 8-1 on April 10 and 7-2 on April 27 — was playing without two of its top six players.
The overall match that lasted three hours and 44 minutes. Both teams advance to the Region 2B semifinals. Central will play at Riverheads on Wednesday, while Clarke County hosts Buffalo Gap at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.
The match came down to a match tiebreaker at No. 1 doubles, after the two teams had split sets. The new Virginia High School League rule this season is that if a match goes to a deciding set they play a match tiebreaker instead of a third set.
“Our guys went to several tiebreakers and in the end they decided they were going to refuse to lose,” Forrest Pritchard said.
Central’s Ethan Hoover and Ethan George lost the first set to Clarke County’s Linus Pritchard and Ellis 6-2, but came back and won the second set, 6-2. In the match tiebreaker, which is the first to 10 points with a two-point lead, the score was tied 5-5.
Linus Pritchard and Ellis were able to win the next two points for a 7-5 lead and kept the lead the rest of the way. Leading 9-7, the Clarke County pair put away an overhead to end the match for a 6-2, 2-6, 10-7 victory in one hour and 17 minutes.
“I’ve never been under so much pressure,” Ellis said. “In the first set we played amazing. I started making a lot of errors in the second set — so that was on me. That’s when the pressure really got into it. But my teammate came through and we won that tiebreaker. It was amazing.”
Both Linus Pritchard and Ellis lost their singles matches in match tiebreakers, and the pair said they didn’t want to lose another one.
“It was a motivation,” Linus Pritchard said. “It was down to us. It was down to the wire for us.”
Early on it appeared Clarke County might run away with the match. The Eagles took a quick 3-1 lead.
Clarke County’s Jonathan Westbrook beat Jack Fox, 6-1, 6-0 in 48 minutes. Clarke County’s Preston Bernier beat George, 6-1, 6-3 in 57 minutes, and Clarke County’s Thomas Dalton beat Anthony Pulizzi, 6-1, 6-2 in one hour and 12 minutes. Central’s Ben Walters beat Jack Lucier, 7-5, 6-0 in one hour and six minutes.
The Eagles won the first set in the other two singles matches as well. At No. 1 singles, Linus Pritchard won the first set 6-4, but lost the second set 7-6 (3) to Hoover.
In the match tiebreaker, Hoover grabbed an early lead but Linus Pritchard battled back to tie it 5-5. Hoover won the next three points and held on for the 4-6, 7-6 (3), 10-8 victory in one hour and 34 minutes.
At No. 4 singles, Ellis took the first set from Bruce Mitchell 7-5, but lost the second, 6-2.
Ellis raced out to a 5-1 lead in the match tiebreaker, but Mitchell rattled off eight straight points for a 9-5 lead. Ellis responded with three straight points, but lost 5-7, 6-2, 10-8 in two hours and four minutes.
Clarke County quickly took a 4-3 team lead with a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 3 doubles by Bernier and Westbrook over Pulizzi and Fox in 33 minutes.
Central responded with a 6-3, 6-2 win by Walters and Mitchell at No. 2 doubles over Lucier and Dalton in 48 minutes.
“The guys had a great week of practice,” Forrest Pritchard said. “They were committed, they believed. Central’s a super tough team. We lost to them twice this year and all kudos to them. They’re extremely well-coached, incredibly polite, great sportsmanship.”
The Eagles will now host Buffalo Gap on Tuesday for a state berth.
“We’re excited to bring (a regional semifinal home match) back to Clarke County,” Forrest Pritchard said. “...It’s very exciting.”
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