As their opponents walked away from Darlington’s tennis courts Saturday, the Lady Tigers remained behind — taking pictures with each other, talking about their matches and hearing from their coaches.
It was going to take a lot to move them from the final moments of their season.
After winning back-to-back Region 7-AA titles and going undefeated in region play this season, the Lady Tigers’ solid run through the first three rounds of the Class AA state playoffs came to an end as Pace Academy took the two teams’ semifinal showdown, 3-1.
“I’m extremely proud of the attitude,” Darlington head coach Mark Tunnell said. “As you can see, nobody wants to leave because it has become that little family. They’re sad, and it’s OK to feel sad. You find out a lot about yourself when you lose, as well as when you win.”
Saturday showed that while the Lady Tigers had been feeding off of the success of their season, they were not ones to lie down when faced with a challenge.
Pace Academy won three matches — No. 3 singles, No. 2 doubles and No. 2 singles — before Darlington could notch a victory in the five matches, but all matches saw tough points play out on both sides.
Milan Rane, the Lady Tigers’ No. 1 singles player, won her first set against Pace’s Avi Arora 6-1 and was playing match point with a 5-1 game lead when Zoe Weitzner defeated Darlington’s Callie Maffett, 6-2, 6-1, at No. 2 singles for the third win.
With Pace’s victory ensured, Arora retired and forfeited the match.
Tunnell said it was the toughest competition Rane had faced in the state playoffs.
“The girl she played is very strong, but she beat her convincingly,” Tunnell said. “So to stay at that level, and be at that level, regardless of the competition, is impressive.”
Darlington’s No. 1 doubles team of Caroline Thoms and Lisa Van Susteren lost their first set 6-7 when the match was stopped since the final outcome had been determined.
“That’s the best team in the state that we lost to, and we had a chance to beat them,” Tunnell said. “But if you play your best and lose to somebody, you tip your cap and feel good about what you accomplished.”
The Lady Tigers had lost just one match in the state playoffs prior to Saturday and finish the season with a 13-2 record.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them,” Tunnell said of the team, which will lose Rane and Thoms to graduation this year. “We’ve said, and I’ve said before, that we’re here to have fun, and the best way to have fun is to win. They’ve done that throughout the season.”
Pace, which won the Region 6-AA title this season, advances to next Saturday’s Class AA state championship match against either Wesleyan or Lovett, two other teams from Region 6-AA.