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Knights slay Gainesville for Region 7-AAA title

POSTED: April 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

North Hall's Cara Reece returns a volley during her loss Thursday afternoon to West Forsyth's Megan Pepe during the region tennis finals at Albert Banks Park.

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FLOWERY BRANCH — The chip on Johnson High’s boys tennis team’s shoulder is now gone.

After West Hall prevented the Knights from winning the Region 7-AAA championship in 2007, Johnson entered this year’s tournament on a mission.

Mission completed.

Second-ranked Johnson (16-4) defeated Class AAA third-ranked Gainesville (14-2) 3-1 to claim its first region title since, as Johnson coach Marsha Wilkes put it, "as long as she can remember."

Although the championship match pitted the region’s top-two seeds and two of the three top teams in the state against each other, the outcome was determined almost as quickly as the serves that were delivered by the two teams.

First, Johnson’s No. 1 singles player Seth Hester disposed of Gainesville’s James Wassel, 6-4, 6-3.

While Gainesville evened the score at 1-1 after No. 3 singles player Andreo Belch defeated 6-3, 6-4, Johnson quickly took control of the match when the No. 2 doubles team of William Anthony and Scott Allan defeated Drew Denning and Robbie Bilbrough.

From then on it was only a matter of time before the Knights were celebrating on the court.

As Anthony and Allan were taking care of the Gainesville doubles team, Johnson’s No. 2 singles player Brandon Sloan was in complete control of his match.

After fighting back to win 7-6 (7-3) in the first set against Ryan Joiner, Sloan made sure that the second set would not last long, as the senior defeated Joiner 6-2 to give the Knights the title.

"We felt like it was ours to take and we did," Sloan said of the region title. "This is such a big accomplishment to go out as region champions. It’s unbelievable."

Added fellow senior Hester: "We came in really confident and I feel that if we’re confident then we can win."

That confidence has been on display all year for the Knights, and according to their head coach, it was that confidence that allowed them to achieve their goal of winning the region.

"They came out and did what they had to do," Wilkes said. "This was their goal all season and they made their dream come true. I couldn’t be more proud of them."

With the win, Johnson claims the No. 1 seed out of Region 7-AAA and will have home-court advantage when they play the No. 4 seed out of Region 5-AAA, which has yet to be determined.

Gainesville will also have home-court advantage in round one of the state playoffs and will play the No. 3 seed out of Region 5-AAA.

Also representing Region 7-AAA in the state playoffs are West Hall and North Hall, with the Spartans going in as the No. 3 seed as a result of their 3-1 defeat of the Trojans in the consolation match.

All games are on April 25.

Like the boys’ final, the girls’ region championship match was between the second and third-ranked teams in the state. But unlike the boys’ match, the girls’ champion was not decided until the final match was concluded.

As expected, the second-ranked Lady Trojans of North Hall and the third-ranked Lady Wolverines of West Forsyth faced off for the title.

In a heavyweight bout that saw both teams enter the final undefeated on the year, the Lady Wolverines overcame an early 2-1 deficit to defeat North Hall 3-2 and claim their first region championship in the school’s short history.

"We’re coming in on a winning note," West Forsyth coach James Hallewell said of his team winning the championship in the school’s first year of existence.

But the win didn’t come easy.

After West Forsyth’s Sarah Fogg defeated Hayley Crowder in straight sets, North Hall answered with a sweep in the doubles matches by the No. 1 team of Lauren Bolton and Courtney Wiley and the No. 2 team of Mary Beth Brown and Rachel Langman.

"Our doubles teams did a really good job for us like they have been all year," North Hall coach Roger Fannon said.

With the sweep in doubles, the championship came down to the No. 1 and No. 3 singles matches.

In No. 1 singles, freshman Cara Reese won the first set 6-3 against West Forsyth’s Megan Pepe, but Pepe battled back and won the next two sets 6-3 and 6-0 to tie the game.

While Reese and Pepe were battling on Court 2, North Hall’s Jessica Butts and West Forsyth’s Macy Day were going toe-to-toe in the court directly behind them.

With the sets tied 1-1, Butts and Day went back and forth in the third, and championship-deciding, set.

The intensity of the match was culminated in the ninth game of the set, when the two traded the advantage more than eight times. Finally, Butts was able to take the game, and at the time a 5-4 lead in the set.

But Day lost only four points over the next three sets and was able to defeat Butts 7-5 to give West Forsyth the title.

"There was no one I’d rather have out there than Macy (Day)," Hallewell said.

"North Hall is a good group of girls and they played great," he added. "Our team played excellent and I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids in my life."

Despite the loss, Fannon was also proud of his team.

"I don’t feel bad about losing to them," Fannon said. "When you lose to a team that good you shouldn’t feel bad about it. You just tip your hat to them and move on."

The Lady Trojans will move on to the state tournament as the No. 2 seed from Region 7-AAA where they will play Westminster, the No. 3 seed out of Region 5-AAA and the fourth-ranked team in the state. West Forsyth will play host to Dunwoody, the No. 4 seed from Region 7-AAA.

Also advancing to the state tournament from Region 7-AAA are Gilmer and Pickens, with Gilmer being the No. 3 seed as a result of its 3-0 win against Pickens in the girls’ consolation match.



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