WARSAW – Camille Kerlin and Rosalia Fleming sure made Rick Orban look like a coaching genius Wednesday night.
With the sectional championship winning streak for the Warsaw girls tennis program resting on their rackets, Kerlin and Fleming delivered like seasoned pros.
The reality of the situation couldn’t be further from the truth.
Kerlin and Fleming, who had played a combined total of one varsity match this season, came through in the clutch to give the host Tigers a stunning 3-2 win over Columbia City in first-round action.
Kerlin and Fleming, who had never played together in a match before Wednesday, rallied to win a marathon, three-set thriller at No. 2 doubles for the clinching point.
Warsaw, which has won 12 straight sectional titles under coach Orban, didn’t still have the streak intact until the Eagles hit the final point in the net in the No. 2 doubles contest which ended after 2:45.
Orban rolled the dice with a lineup change and sophomore Kerlin and freshman Fleming provided an improbable point to become postseason heroes.
Warsaw, now 2-10, advances to play Tippecanoe Valley at 5 p.m. Thursday in one semifinal. Wawasee (4-8) faces Whitko (4-8) in the other Thursday semifinal at 5. The winners then meet at 5 p.m. Friday for the sectional title and a spot in the Culver Academies Regional on May 21.
Warsaw did not play Valley during the regular season. They did blank Wawasee 5-0 for their lone win of the regular season. Wawasee defeated Whitko 3-2 on Tuesday night.
Columbia City, whose regular season match with Warsaw was cancelled due to weather, finishes at 10-9. The Eagles were attempting to win the program’s first sectional title since 1981.
Kerlin and Fleming, who played mainly JV doubles (but not together) all season, showed their grit. The two dropped their first set to seniors Breanna Hicks and Alaina Beckner 6-3 and were down 6-5 in the second. The tough duo rallied to even the match by winning the second set tiebreaker 7-5. They then trailed 3-2 in the final set before winning the final four games for the 6-3 victory. The pair got a huge win in game two of the final set, breaking the Eagles’ serve to make it 1-1 and regain some much-needed momentum.
When the City return of the final point found its way into the net, it was hugs, high-fives and fist pumps all around for the Tigers.
Kerlin had played one varsity match at No. 2 doubles on May 2 versus Culver Academies. She played near the top of the junior varsity doubles lineup most of the regular season.
“It means so much to me that I could step in and help the team out,” said Kerlin. “I did feel some pressure out there and I knew what was going on with our other matches. But, I never thought that we couldn’t do it even when we were down. Once we got into a rhythm playing together, we did well together.”
Fleming, a dimunitive freshman who played No. 7 JV doubles in the first match of the season back on April 9, seemed amazed by what had just happened.
“Are you kidding me?,” said Fleming about her response when she was told by Orban that she would be playing in the sectional.
“I’m just really happy and so thankful that I could be there for the team,” added Fleming, who worked her way up the JV doubles lineup throughout the season. “I’m thankful that I had a good partner out there in Camille to support me. I just was focusing on my own game tonight. Coach told us that if we put our mind to it that we could win. I just kept thinking we can do this.”
Orban, whose team had a tough regular season to say the least, was fist-pumping almost each and every point down the stretch while watching the unbelievable unfold in front of his eyes.
“I made the lineup change, but I never dreamt that it would come down to a finish like this,” said Orban. “Camille and Rosie are our heroes tonight hands down. I’m so proud of them. I’m absolutely thrilled for our girls and our school. We’ll see how this carries over to tomorrow night.
“We came into this sectional as the prohibitive underdog this year. Columbia City is a really solid team and we have not played well all year. We had breakfast today (the team) at the Optimists and I told them this was about pride and getting that 13th sectional in a row.”
“Camille had played just the one varsity match and Rosie none, but I had watched them for the last couple of weeks. They are confident and they don’t make errors.”
The Tigers got great play in taking two of the singles matches Wednesday night.
Jacqueline Sasso put Warsaw up 1-0 with a dominating win at No. 2 singles in about 45 minutes. Sasso, a junior, topped Columbia City junior Kennedy Slavicek 6-0, 6-1.
Lindsay Sciarra, one of three seniors in the Warsaw lineup, notched a gutty win at No. 3 singles. Sciarra, who has persevered through injury after injury, beat senior Adriana Brown 6-1, 6-0.
“Jacqueline and Lindsay both just played great matches tonight,” said Orban.
The Eagles won at both No. 1 positions. Senior Celine Rongos, a strong southpaw, beat junior Sarah Boyle 6-0, 6-2 at the top singles spot. Rongos improves to 18-1 on the season.
The City No. 1 doubles team of junior Sydney Ford and sophomore Macie Hinen put together some kind of incredible turnaround. The pair lost to Warsaw seniors Marley Smith and Olivia Wallin 6-0 in their first set before winning the final two sets 6-3, 6-1.