Epic Match: A win for the ages!
The script for this match could have been written in Hollywood. Two powerful teams. Each undefeated in the ISL. At stake could very well be the 2022 ISL Championship. Home courts: Belmont Hill. On the road: Groton. How would the battle of the unbeaten teams play out?
Groton arrived over an hour early to Belmont Hill, a good plan of attack as their unique indoor courts needed a little getting used to. The match would be played on only four courts, making the drama of the day unfold slowly. Fortunately, Groton had some wonderful fans, including Mr and Mrs. Maqubela, Jon and Kate Gura, Lexi Holberton Wight, Phil Holberton, Powers Trigg, Donald Trigg, and Shantanu Dhaka. Both Powers and Shantanu were captains and players on two of Groton's most storied tennis teams ever. And all of these fans formed a type of secret weapon for the Zebras.
Let play begin! Belmont Hill got the first point on the strength of victories at doubles at #2 and #1. At #1, Jared Gura and Ben Jones lost closely in a tie-breaker. Larry Li and Will Vrattos were defeated by a strong team at #2. Meanwhile, Trip Wight and Griffin Gura won decisively at #3 as did Bryan Bin and Jack Lionette in an exhibition match at #4. Belmont Hill 1 - Groton 0.
At a second team meeting, Señor Conner observed that the situation was positive: the team simply needed to embrace the opportunity of winning a match in which the doubles had been lost. First time of the season. Let singles begin! Trip Wight at #4 was once again electric, playing beautiful tennis en route to a crisp, straight-set victory. Groton 1 - Belmont Hill 1.
The next two matches unfortunately went to Belmont Hill. Captain Jared Gura at #2 lost closely to a skilled player, while Captain Ben Jones at #3 had difficulties establishing his normal rhythm. Belmont Hill 3 - Groton 1. The team was up against a wall.
Captain Larry Li at #1 brought a smile back to the faces of the Groton fans with beautiful play en route to a straight set victory. He handled the pressure of the moment skillfully, even surrounded on one side with bleachers full of Belmont Hill players and coaches. Belmont Hill 3 - Groton 2.
The final two matches were in the early stages. Griffin Gura and Jack Lionette, referred to as "The Closers" by Señor Conner, each got off to early leads. Steady play at #6 and explosive play at #5 helped each boy be victorious in his first set. But, could they close the deal? Could each deliver? The fans grew louder. The tension grew. Señor Conner paced, visited the boys on court, yet had a feeling in his heart that the ending might be a happy one.
Griffin made this Hollywood film all-the-more interesting. After dominating the 1st set, he fell to 0-4 in the second. Yikes! Yet, stroke by stroke, passing shot by passing shot, fierce serve by fierce serve, Griffin fought back to being down, 4-5. He then evened the score, and, then, two games later, it was 6-6! A tiebreaker loomed. How would it play out? Well ... 1-0. 2-0. 3-0. 4-0. 5-0. 6-0. 7-0. Griffin won every single point! The match was now deadlocked. Groton 3 - Belmont Hill 3.
Everything would now fall onto the shoulders of Jack Lionette at #6. Time seemed to stop. The points went on forever. Jack was rarely missing. And slowly, but surely, he took the lead in that deciding second set. When Señor Conner went out at a changeover to see how things were going, Jack commented "I have never been more focused." Señor Conner knew not to break the spell. He smiled and returned back to the line of Groton players standing at courtside, riveted by the match. Jack worked methodically, and went up 5-3. Then 40-15 in the decisive game. Then 40-30. Then 40-40. Now what? Jack wins the no-ad point. The set. The match. And the Groton players rush to the court to embrace one of the heroes of the day.
Wow! Commented Señor Conner: "This day had eight heroes. Each boy deserved part of this sweet victory. They worked so hard in practice these past weeks. They are fearless as a team. The look of defeat does not touch their countenance. Is there a team that can beat them? Who knows? One day at a time. One point at a time. One stroke at a time. That is it. The secret. Live in the present. Give one's best. Period."
On the way home, the team relished a feast at McDonald's. There was laughter and yelping and great camaraderie. Celebration is important. There are things worth savoring. And this team is one of them.
Rivers is at home this coming Friday. And then the New Englands starting Saturday at Choate for the quarter-finals and semifinals. Groton is the #1 seed in the "A" Division. The finals will be played on Sunday .... at Groton. Go, Zebras!