On paper, the Warwick Vets girls’ tennis team’s quarterfinal showdown with Mt. Hope on Tuesday afternoon at Slater Park looked like a mismatch.
The Huskies were the top seed from Division III-East after a 13-1 regular season, while the ’Canes were the No. 4 seed from D-III-West after a 7-7 season.
And the final score will fall in line with that, as Mt. Hope eliminated Vets 4-1 to advance to the semifinals on Thursday. But the ’Canes were competitive the whole way. When the Huskies clinched the victory with a win at No. 3 doubles, Vets was leading the unfinished No. 2 doubles match and was down 4-3 in the third set of the No. 1 doubles match. It was conceivable – even likely – that had all the matches played out, the ’Canes would have been edged out 4-3.
Vets was right in it.
“I think they felt comfortable,” Vets head coach Brian Palazzo said. “Last year, we played Ponaganset and they were basically the cream of the crop. We knew that we were going against a powerhouse. This year, we weren’t nervous playing this match. Even the matches we lost, they were competitive.”
The two teams didn’t play this year during the regular season, but last season Vets and Mt. Hope were in the same D-III subdivision, and the ’Canes beat the Huskies both times they played during the season.
The lineups were a little bit different this season, especially the ’Canes’, but the success from the past told Palazzo that his team could at least contend with Mt. Hope.
“To be honest with you, even though it was a one versus four I thought it was going to be a competitive match,” Palazzo said. “They were on our side last year and we beat them twice and I had looked back at their lineup, and they basically had almost the same lineup. The difference in this match was that we graduated five players from last year.”
Early on though, Mt. Hope built a big lead. Alyson Dion beat Vets’ Jamie Yates 6-2, 6-4 at No. 2 singles, and Haley Ferreira beat Olivia Roy 6-2, 6-1 at No. 3 singles.
That put Mt. Hope up 2-0 overall and the Huskies made it 3-0 when Simone Verria beat Thalia Rivera-Ortiz 6-3, 6-1 at No. 4 singles.
“It hurts that we dropped the three singles matches, and put all the pressure on the doubles,” Palazzo said.
On the verge of being swept, the ’Canes didn’t go down without a fight. Lauren Smith outlasted Lauren Fletcher 7-5, 7-5 at No. 1 singles, and suddenly Vets was back in the match.
All three doubles matches moved into a third set, and the ’Canes needed wins in all of them to advance.
The No. 2 team of Jenn Salerno and Joelle Nelson was up 5-3 on Catherine McGee and Sarah Leger in the third, while the No. 1 team of Tauri Sequeria and Guiliana Melo was down 4-3 in the third but was in the midst of a two-game winning streak.
Yet, while those matches were happening, Mt. Hope finished the job at No. 3 doubles. The team of Lauren Manuel and Sophie Costa beat Alison Chace and Amanda Reid 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 for the final point.
As the unquestioned underdogs, Vets was proud that it pushed Mt. Hope to the brink, even if the end result was still elimination.
“It’s a great accomplishment that we were the one to grab that fourth playoff spot and then put up a fight against Mt. Hope,” Palazzo said.
In fact, simply getting to the playoffs may have been Vets’ greatest accomplishment on the season. It won a tiebreaker over Cranston East, who also finished 7-7, just to qualify for the postseason.
The tiebreaker is total matches won between the two teams. When East and Vets played for the first time – in the second match of the season – East cruised to a 5-2 victory.
When they played again, on Sept. 25, Vets knew that it needed to win by at least a 5-2 margin in order to make up the ground and jump in front of East.
The ’Canes did better than that. They won 6-1.
“That was an awesome accomplishment for them to pull that off,” Palazzo said. “Not only win it, but win it with the numbers that we needed.”
This season was the second straight year that Vets made the playoffs after missing out the previous two years. The ’Canes will now say goodbye to six seniors – Nelson, Rivera-Ortiz, Roy, Salerno, Sequeria and Yates – all of whom were in the lineup this year.
“I do think this season was a success, because I thought going into the season, if you looked at who was in our division and who we were going up against that it was probably going to come down to us, Pilgrim and Cranston East for that fourth spot,” Palazzo said. “Next year is going to be a real rebuilding year.”