It was another marathon match for Garces junior Sierra Kent and the first Central Section girls tennis championship berth for the Rams since 2011.
Kent took nearly 3 ½ hours in beating Delaney Custer 7-6, 5-7 (10-7) to secure the victory for 2nd-seeded Garces, 5-1, over visiting No. 3 Clovis-Buchanan in the Division I semifinals on Thursday.
“This was huge,” Garces coach Barb Johnston Hill said. “(Kent) keeps going.”
The Bears elected not to play the doubles matches as a majority of the players on both teams have to gear up for the section singles and doubles championships Friday morning at Garces.
The Rams (20-3) have yet to play a meaningful doubles match outside of tournament play and have won 14 consecutive matches.
The last loss came on Sept. 7 to Clovis North. The top-seeded Broncos will host Garces in the D-I section finals on Tuesday in Fresno.
Alexsia Drulias took roughly 30 minutes on the court Thursday in a quick 6-0, 6-0 No.1 singles victory over Mikayla Marini. Drulias then proceeded to play the role of cheerleader, – which she actually does on Friday nights as a member of the Garces cheer squad – for the next three hours.
“It nerve-wracking and exciting,” Drulias said. “It was super nerve-wracking to watch Sierra, but she can prove herself out on the court.”
Jackie Sala then defeated Stephanie Foanene, 6-0, 6-4, in the No. 2 singles and Kylee Limpias defeated fellow freshman Laura Hide, 6-4, 6-4, to give the Rams a 3-0 lead.
But Buchanan had a lead in the No. 5 and No. 6 singles matches that at one point felt like the Bears would force doubles play to win the semifinals.
But Mercado forced a third-set tie-breaker with Kennedy Avery. Mercado lost the first set 7-6 and came back to win the second 7-5. Then, down 9-7 in the 10-point tie-breaker, Mercado rallied to win the final four points in an 11-9 victory and gave the Rams a 4-1 lead with just the No. 4 singles left to finish.
“This is the deepest team we have ever had,” Johnston Hill said. “We will see what happens Tuesday. We’ve got a shot at it.”
Hailey Ferris defeated Matea Thomas 6-4, 6-3 to give the Bears a match win.
Then Kent and Delaney Custer made it a marathon.
Kent won the opening set 7-6 and the two once again played in a 7-point tie-breaker in the second set that went Custer’s way to force a tie-breaker. Kent handled it, 10-7, and the rest of the Garces team stormed the court in celebration.
“I’ve never been on a team that has made the finals,” Drulias, a four-year standout for Garces, said. “This is a new experience for me. This will be new ground, but I think we can do it.”
Central Section Division I semifinals
No. 2 Garces 5, No. 3 Clovis-Buchanan 1
SINGLES: Drulias, G, d. Marini, 6-0, 6-0; Sala, G, d. Foanene, 6-0, 6-4; Limpias, G, d. Hide, 6-4, 6-4; Kent, G, d. Custer, 7-6, 5-7 (10-7); Mercado, G, d. Avery, 4-6, 6-2 (11-9); Ferris, B, d. Thomas, 6-4, 6-3.
DOUBLES: Buchanan elected to forfeit doubles
No. 2 Garces will play at No. 1 Clovis North for the section championship in Fresno on Tuesday