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Mustangs edged by Weddington

GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan’s tennis team gathered around coach Sunni Hill for the final time on Tuesday.
There weren’t many tears. Mostly there were smiles for a season that will follow them the rest of their lives, so Hill wiped her eyes and laughed along with them.
“This was the best team that I’ve been on,” said East’s No. 1 player Lizzie Weaver. “It’s amazing how much this team improved in the last two years, and we saw just how much better these last two matches. I’m happy more than sad right now because I’m very proud of all my teammates.”
East’s last two matches were dramatic affairs. Books could be written about East’s 5-4 first-round win over Hibriten that went deep into the night. Then Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to Weddington that included a rain delay was Hibriten Lite. Once again, play began at the Erwin courts in Granite Quarry and had to be completed under the City Park lights in Salisbury.
East (13-2) made it to the third round last season and only the second round this time, but the draw is everything.
“We had a favorable draw last year (Patton first, then Crest),” Hill said. “This time we played a great team in the first round and another great team in the second round. We actually played 10 times better this year than we played last year.”
East’s singles wins on Tuesday came from the Agner sisters, Rebecca and Laura, at No. 2 and No. 3, and from Emma Ritchie, who made another spirited comeback to take a marathon No.6 match in a tiebreaker. Ritchie dropped the first set but just wouldn’t stop.
“The Agners were rock stars today,” Hill said. “Ritchie is our comeback queen. She doesn’t start playing until the second set.”
Ritchie’s heroics netted East a 3-3 deadlock after singles. Then the skies darkened and the rains came.
The difference-maker was Weddington phenom Heidi Swope, a doubles state champ a year ago and a potential singles champ this time. Weaver is a three-time conference player of the year and a state qualifier, but she had no chance in singles.
Weaver knew that coming in. Swope already had beaten her in the regional individual tournament semifinals over the weekend.
East tried to stay away from Swope in the No. 1 doubles match, but she was too good. Weddington won 10-6.
Weddington took the No. 3 doubles match to clinch. East’s Lauren Thomas-Laura Agner team then won 10-8 at No. 2 doubles, reliving their amazing comeback victory against Hibriten that had extended East’s season one more precious week.
Weaver heads to Burlington this weekend for the state individual tournament. Her teammates will put their raquets away for a while.
East will lose Weaver, Rebecca Agner, Thomas and No. 5 player Drew Pethel to graduation.
“But we went out with a bang,” Weaver said.
No doubt.
“I don’t think anyone believed we could play the No. 6 team in the state a 5-4 match,” Hill said. “But the girls did that.”

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