WINTHROP — All eyes were on Chloe Fisher and Gabrielle Blanco.

The Class C South girls semifinal tennis match between Waynflete and Winthrop had been played to a 2-all tie, and the focus shifted to the second singles court, where Waynflete’s Fisher and Winthrop’s Blanco had been battling all afternoon, and where they took their pivotal match beyond three sets to an all-or-nothing tiebreaker.

“It’s just sad that somebody had to (lose),” Waynflete coach Linda Cohen said.

Winthrop’s Nora Conrad returns a shot during her match with Waynflete’s Morgan Warner during a Class C South semifinal Saturday in Winthrop. Warner won 6-0, 6-2. Staff photo by Drew Bonifant

Eventually, a Fisher return landed just out of reach for Blanco to send one back, completing a 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (5) win that gave No. 5 Waynflete a 3-2 victory over No. 1 Winthrop Saturday afternoon.

“Every point becomes match point, just about,” said Cohen, whose 9-5 team will play for its second state final appearance in three years. “Really, going down to the wire, stress, pressure, keeping score, calling lines. It’s all on them.”

Waynflete also got wins from Morgan Warner at No. 1 singles and the No. 1 doubles team of Courtney Ford and Tabby Al Musawi. Winthrop, which got wins at No. 3 singles from Natalie Frost and No. 2 doubles from Hannah Duley and Dana Lesko, lost its first match of the year and finished 11-1.

“(Blanco) battles through everything. If it were to happen that way, that’s exactly how I wanted it to play out, just minus the score,” coach Jess Merrill said. “I thought we prepared for them pretty well, we knew where we could win. Some of us got the job done, and some of us didn’t.”

Winthrop took the first two matches, but Waynflete won first at No. 1 doubles and then at top singles to turn the spotlight to second singles. The pressure was on, and both players could feel it.

“It’s a lot of pressure. It’s really hard, but you’ve got to get it,” Fisher said. “It’s choosing what’s important, what to focus on. It’s your game, and forgetting about everything else that’s happening around you.”

Fisher took care of Blanco in the first set, but the Winthrop junior bounced back to win the second. All other matches were done by the third set, which saw Blanco take a 3-2 lead. Fisher won the next three games to move one away from taking the match, but Blanco rebounded to win the next three games to go up 6-5.

Winthrop’s Natalie Frost winds up for a forehand return during her match with Waynflete’s Lily Fanburg in a Class C South semifinal Saturday in Winthrop. Frost won 6-2, 6-1. Staff photo by Drew Bonifant

“I tried to ignore that (pressure). Sometimes it was hard,” Blanco said. “You just have to focus on placement, and try to be mentally strong. It can be difficult, especially when you’re down, but you just have to mentally persevere.”

“There’s nobody else I would want in that spot, with something on the line,” Merrill said. “She’s so mentally strong.”

So was Fisher, who won the next game to force a tiebreaker at 6-6.

“It’s all about trying to get one point back, trying to stay in the game. Doing whatever you can to stay in that game,” Fisher said. “It’s really hard, because by the third (set) you’re tired, you’re drained, so it’s really difficult to keep your body moving. It’s a mind over matter thing.”

In the tiebreaker, Blanco erased deficits of 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4 before Fisher finally prevailed 7-5 — more than three hours after they started playing.

“She’s had two or three three-setters this season (where) she’s dug it out,” Cohen said of Fisher, who played doubles last season. “She’s very competitive, she doesn’t like to give up.”

At first, Winthrop’s depth appeared to be making the difference. Frost, who went undefeated at No. 3 singles, put Winthrop up 1-0 with a 6-2, 6-1 win, and Duley and Lesko breezed to a 6-2, 6-2 win in the second doubles match.

But even down 2-0, the path for a Waynflete comeback was clear. Fisher and the No. 1 doubles team were winning, and Cohen had an ace waiting to take the court in Warner, who reached the semifinals of the state singles tournament. Ford and Al Musawi put Waynflete on the board with a 6-2, 6-2 win, and Warner evened up the match when she beat Nora Conrad, 6-0, 6-2.

“Morgan’s been pretty much of a sure thing,” Cohen said of her hard-hitting sophomore. “She trains quite a bit during the week, outside of practice.”

The marathon match at second singles was all that was left, and when it was over, Waynflete had its fifth playoff win over Winthrop in six years.

“We thought we had a really good shot, and I thought overall we played them really strong,” Merrill said. “It’s just that hump we’ve got to get over. We’ve got to get over the name that’s on the jersey.”


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