Updated Nov. 2 at 10:30 a.m. to correct the names of Caroline Sloop and Anna Maria Gardiner.
Dutch Fork defeated Lexington 4-2 to win the Class 4A Lower State championship and advance to the big-school state girls tennis finals on Saturday at the Cayce Tennis and Fitness Center.
The youthful Silver Foxes (16-1) survived three tiebreakers on the way to their fourth win this season over the equally young Wildcats and rate their first title shot since 2001.
“I thought we had a chance to be a good team after I saw the talent we had during tryouts,” Dutch Fork coach Gina Hilts said.
“But even though I’ve had a lot of confidence in this group from the beginning of the season, to get this far with so many young players is quite an accomplishment.”
It was a thrill, in particular, for team captain Bailey Shealy, the only senior in the Silver Foxes’ starting lineup.
“It sounds cliché, but the feeling of finally getting to for a state championship is indescribable,” she said. “I was starting to get worn out by the game, but playing with this team and these girls restored my love of tennis.”
The Silver Foxes got a straight-set win from eighth-grader Lauren Joch at No. 1 singles and wrapped it up with tie-breaker decisions by sophomores Anna Maria Gardiner and Caroline Sloop and the double teams of Shealy and sophomore Madison Campanella.
Gardiner rebounded from a 3-6 second-set loss to dispatch Carley Neuberger at No. 4 singles with a 10-6 advantage in the tiebreaker.
Sloop bounced back from a 6-1 second-set loss with a clinching 12-10 success in the tiebreaker at No. 5 singles against Erin Lavisky. After breezing 6-0 in the first set, Shealy and Campanella needed an 8-6 tiebreaker edge to beat Madisyn Currie and Mary Weston Lawrence and secure the match victory.
Lexington finished 18-7 with four of the losses coming against Dutch Fork.
“We just didn’t have the confidence to pull out the close matches that made the difference today,” said Wildcats coach Eric Jackson.
“It’s tough to lose in the semifinals again, but this team weathered some storms and ended up having a good season.”
Lexington has come up short in the semifinals seven times in the past eight years.
Amy Lance and Kelly Gajewski accounted for the Lexington wins at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, respectively.
Singles: Lauren Joch (DF) def. Katie Thompson 6-4, 6-3; Amy Lance (L) def. Alison Walsh 6-2, 6-4; Kelly Gajewski (L) def. Haley Owens (retired); Anna Maria Gardiner (DF) def. Erin Lavisky 6-2, 3-6, 10-6; Caroline Sloop (DF) def. Carley Neuberger 6-1, 1-6, 12-10. Doubles: Bailey Shealy-Madison Campanella (DF) def. Madisyn Currie-Mary Weston Lawrence 6-0, 7-6 (8-6).