The girls’ tennis squad at Knightdale came this close to redemption.
The Knights won just one pairing last month at East Wake. Although they put forth a better effort the second time around, the Knights still fell to the Warriors – this time by a slimmer margin of 5-4.
For East Wake, nothing compares to knocking off the old cross-town rival twice in one season.
“Being new here, I’m finding out it’s a big rivalry in every sport,” said Warriors first-year coach Gerald Melton. “I give (the Knights) a lot of credit because they came out with a lot of fight.”
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Motivated by the September loss, Knightdale put the pressure on East Wake starting in singles play.
Knightdale’s Diamond Oduok took out East Wake’s Maliaka Nzau decisively (7-5, 6-2) on court No. 1 to set the tone. Knights coach Fatimah Cruz-Parker expects Oduok to make some noise in the upcoming postseason.
But Oduok’s win was nothing new. She beat Nzau the last time they met. The real surprise was how well those beneath Oduok in the lineup performed.
On court No. 2, Knightdale’s Kayla Larkins gave East Wake’s Kelly Daughtridge a run for her money. Ultimately, Daughtridge’s careful and conservative approach allowed her to outlast a tiring Larkins (7-5, 6-3).
The Knights forced tie-breakers on court Nos. 3 and 4. Knightdale’s Lexxus Johnson came away with a win over Eboni Montague on No. 3 (6-1, 2-6, 7-4), while teammate Ravon Scarborough fell short in her energetic battle with Kayley Marchena of East Wake on No. 4 (4-6, 6-4, 7-4).
These top-four players were only a few swings of the racket away from swaying the entire match in Knightdale’s favor.
“They put a lot of their heart into this game,” Cruz-Parker said of her team. “They didn’t like how the last one ended.”
East Wake was simply the deeper team, however, and it showed on court Nos. 5 and 6. Knightdale’s Aliyah Tutton made a push on No. 5 but couldn’t handle everything East Wake’s Kate Williams sent her way and eventually lost (7-5, 6-3). On No. 6, Sadie Peña proved no match for Miranda Phillips of East Wake, who claimed the only easy win of the day (6-1, 6-3).
“The majority of my girls had never picked up a racket in their lives,” Parker-Cruz said, explaining her team’s growth over the course of the season. “They’ve all, in my opinion, improved 150 percent. When they come out to practice, they put all their heart into it.”
The Knights needed to win all three doubles matches to steal victory, and they nearly pulled it off. Again, it was Knightdale’s top four making the impressive push.
On court No. 1, Oduok and Johnson teamed up to take down Nzau and Montague in a tie-breaker (7-7, 8-6). Court No. 2 held a similar fate, as Larkins and Scarborough knocked off Daughtridge and Williams in a tiebreaker of their own (7-7, 7-5).
The Warriors’ third doubles pairing, Marchena and Phillips, ultimately clinched the team win with their victory over Knightdale’s Destiny Sledge and Kimberly Mejorado, both of whom did not participate in singles play.
“Today, we seemed not really into it as much,” Melton said. “Last week, I thought we played well, even against Garner and Clayton, who are really strong teams in the league. We’ve been showing improvement each match.”
The East Wake-Knightdale clash was the last scheduled match for both teams, however, both squads had a previously rained-out match that needed to be made up on Thursday.