CULVER — There were tears at the close of Warsaw’s regional semifinal at the Culver Academies Tuesday night.
After a nearly-four-hour endurance match between Lady Tigers 2 singles player Taylor Shoaf and CGA’s Anna Moreno, Shoaf was left drying her eyes, but not for the reason you might expect.
Shoaf finally put away Moreno via 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-5 decision, and the tears welling in her eyes were of joy and relief. That victory clinched the Tigers a narrow, 3-2 win over their hosts and the right to advance to Wednesday’s championship opposite Plymouth.
“She did an incredible job,” said Warsaw coach Rick Orban. “She lost that first set. We’ve all seen over the course of the years you lose that first set, you’re down, the team is down, and then you lose the next set 6-0. Taylor just refused to do that tonight, and I’m so proud of her.”
“I don’t even remember the last point. That’s how excited I was,” recalled Shoaf. “I didn’t even see it go over the net, and I was like ‘Oh my gosh,’ and I just lost it. It was good.”
With the match knotted up at two match points apiece and Shoaf trailing midway through the second set, the Warsaw junior climbed into a 6-5 lead, but Moreno broke her serve to force a tiebreaker. Still knotted at three points each, Shoaf ran out the final four points of the tiebreak to split with her CGA counterpart.
Prior to the third set, Orban and wife Jan gave Shoaf some pointers, and the Warsaw head coach whispered some choice words in his No. 2’s ear.
“Basically we talked about that if you’re going to put out this much effort, and it’s going to be this late — for your team, for your school, for yourself, win this match,” Orban said. “That’s what I whispered, and she looked at me and she said ‘OK. I will.’”
The indoor facility at the Gable Complex was dead quiet as the 2 singles competitors battled back and forth late into the night through a nip-tuck third set, every shot, grunt and groan echoing through the cavernous building and all eyes trained on the combatants. The duo were once again knotted as late as five games apiece in the third set. After a pair of deuces in the ninth game, Shoaf finally held serve to go up 6-5. Following the changeover, she broke Moreno for the 7-5 clincher.
“I tell myself I want it more. Like every single shot, I want it more — ‘You want this more. This is yours,’” explained Shoaf. “And I just focus on that. Each point even if I mess it up, I’m like ‘OK. That’s fine. The next one, you want it more.’”
“It is very hard because you know that you’re the last one, and for me especially I knew if I didn’t win this one, my team doesn’t go on,” she said. “So there was a lot of insane pressure, but I do have awesome teammates and awesome family that cheered me on the whole way. That really does count for something because when you get down it’s a singles match, so it’s all you, but when you have your teammates there it really helps you out a lot.”
One doubles were the first ones off Tuesday, and that decision went to CGA’s Ava Kite and Margaret Davidson via 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Reagan Merchant and Rachel Yeager. Alyssa Zellers fired back with a 6-1, 6-0 defeat of Lilia Rosique at 1 singles to knot the meet at 1-all, and Rachel Boyle put away Culver’s Chao-Chin Hsu, 6-3, 7-6 to give her team the lead briefly at two points to one. But after an epic comeback at 2 doubs, Warsaw’s Maddie Ray and Amy Herendeen couldn’t quite hold off Anaia Johnson and Luci Landry in a 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 loss, setting the stage for the dramatic finish at 2 singles.
CGA’s doubles wins reprised an earlier sweep by Warsaw during regular-season play between the two teams.
“We talked about it. I said ‘These kids aren’t just going to lay down for you guys. They’re going to come out firing. They’re at home,’ and I was a little bit concerned about the match,” Orban said.
“It was a pretty interesting match. They’re a good team. They really are a solid team so I feel fortunate to come out of this.”
With Tuesday’s forecast calling for rain — rain that never quite came through Culver — the regional semifinals were moved inside to the Academies’ five-court indoor facility. Plymouth and Manchester played first, and the Pilgrims claimed a 4-1 win over the Squires, their only loss coming at 2 singles.
Warsaw fell at all singles positions in a loss to Northern Lakes Conference-rival Plymouth in a meet earlier this spring, but the Tigers have gained valuable experience since then after each of them started the season at a new position. They’ve been hoping for another shot at the Pilgrims, and now they’ll get one in Wednesday’s regional final, slated for 5 p.m.
“Plymouth is a great team. We were here early. The girls were doing their homework, stuff like that, but they did watch some of the match,” said Orban. “I think they’re ready for tomorrow. We may have been looking ahead a little bit, which we’ll see. But they did a great job, Plymouth. They beat a good Manchester team 4-1 so it’s going to be a tough opponent tomorrow.”