CARY — Every stroke mattered.
And maybe that’s all either Panther Creek or Green Hope’s girls’ tennis teams could have asked for, given the circumstances.
Green Hope entered the Tri-9 showdown as underdogs, despite being the five-time defending conference champions and never having lost to Panther Creek.
The Catamounts came in with fingers crossed that its top player would be well enough to go the distance, but instead the team had to shift its lineup around two injuries.
Three singles matches and one doubles match needed third-set tiebreakers, giving Panther Creek any number of match-saving moments to cherish in its historic 5-4 victory Thursday. An 82-match conference winning streak by the Falcons, who had gone 14-0 twice and 16-0 three straight years following a regular-season finale loss to Athens Drive in 2006, had come to an end.
“I would like to think it’s one of the bigger wins for the school since we opened,” PC coach Nathaniel Blalock said. “Today was a good day.”
In 2006, Panther Creek No. 3 singles player Orla Labiche, now a freshman, was in third grade.
Blalock approached her before her third-set tiebreaker, which the first player to 10 points wins, against Jurasia Horvat.
“You have a chance to be the hero,” he told her.
Labiche was already playing one seed higher than she normally does. No. 1 singles player Megan Smith had played doubles at the beginning of the match, but back pains kept her from competing any further.
Labiche, one of four freshmen in Panther Creek’s lineup, won 1-6, 7-5, 1-0 (10-8).
That clinched the match for the Catamounts (7-1, 7-0) with one match still to play.
“I didn’t really think of the pressure part, I thought of the good part of it,” said Labiche. “I thought of how I could do this. I didn’t think of how I could ruin this.”
Panther Creek had won two of the three doubles matches to take an early 2-1 lead. Green Hope (7-1, 6-1) won the first tiebreaker of the day with a 9-8 victory at No. 3 doubles by Caroline Sigmon and Priyanka Srinivas against PC’s Loren Kim and Katie Ryan.
The first two singles matches to be completed were wins by Green Hope’s No. 6 Ellie Ackerson (6-3, 6-4 against Marjorie Primm) and Panther Creek’s No. 4 Kim (6-0, 6-4). The No. 1 and 2 singles courts were the next ones done, and each went to third-set tiebreakers.
Primm is the No. 8 singles player in the Catamounts’ lineup, but No. 7 Brooke Namboodri was also out with a broken finger.
Green Hope freshman Karena Zhang fended off Jordan Strickland at No. 2 singles, 7-5, 1-6, 1-0 (10-7), but PC got its fourth team point from No. 1 Sammie Smith’s 6-3, 1-6, 1-0 (10-8) victory against senior Audrey Channell.
It set the stage for Labiche, who still had enough energy to pull out the win.
As the sun set and the light-less courts grew dimmer – Srinivas, who had won a first-set tiebreaker, defeated Ryan 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 for the final victory.
“We came into it knowing that Panther Creek was expecting a blowout, even. We knew it was going to be a tough one for us,” said Green Hope coach Beth Hedgepeth. “Two of the tiebreakers in singles were 10-8, so literally, the match was decided on two points. When you give the advice that every point matters, it really did in this match.”
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps