Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 16, 2013

GRANITE QUARRY — It took five hours, three venues and three serious comebacks, but East Rowan’s girls won a tennis match for the ages on Tuesday.
East’s 5-4 win against Hibriten (11-3) in the first round of the 3A playoffs finally ended shortly after 9 p.m. when Lauren Thomas, a senior with a sinus infection who had thrown up three times while losing her singles match, watched a ball sail over her head and out to bring an end to an unbelievable 11-9 No. 2 doubles match.
“I saw that ball, and all I could think was, ‘Please go, please go, and keep going,’ ” Thomas said.
The ball went, Thomas rushed to hug partner Rebecca Agner, and East was 14-1.
Hibriten saw lots more of Rowan than it expected. The match started at 4 p.m. in Granite Quarry, but No. 5 and No. 6 singles were marathons. East’s Emma Ritchie rallied at No. 6, but Hibriten’s Carson Banks stormed back at No. 5 to beat Drew Pethel. Darkness was approaching when singles ended in a 3-all deadlock.
Cars convoyed to Rockwell Elementary’s lighted courts, but the lights weren’t on. That’s why they finally finished at Salisbury’s City Park.
East’s Lizzie Weaver struggled at No. 1 singles with Hibriten’s Claire Chase, but after falling behind 3-1 in the first set, Weaver squared her shoulders like a tiny linebacker and surged back.
“Rough start, but I changed strategy and came out on top,” Weaver said.
Doubles didn’t look good. East was way behind at No. 3 and No. 2, and Weaver and Laura Agner were fighting to stay ahead on the No. 1 court.
A roar from the far court meant Hibriten had won easily at No. 3 doubles. But it was 4-4 after Weaver and Laura Agner won 10-6. The emotional Weaver tackled her partner in her excitement, and then sat to watch two senior teammates decide the match.
“I’d almost lost hope over there,” Weaver said.
East coach Sunni Hill hadn’t. She knew Weaver would do whatever she had to do at No. 1, so she threw all her coaching energy into the No. 2 match, where Thomas and Rebecca Agner had trailed as much as 5-1.
“I knew we were going to win it or lose it at No. 2, so I was with them,” Hill said. “I told them they could come back by winning two games at a time. That’s what they did. A match like this is when you show your heart, and they fought and fought.”
East’s girls caught up at 9-9. Then they went ahead. Then the ER crowd erupted.
“There was a lot of pressure, but I played my best tennis,” Rebecca Agner said. “We’re a senior team. That’s what pulled us through.”
Someone asked about practice, and Hill laughed. “Get some sleep,” she said. “Tomorrow, you sleep.”