As dusk descended on the Tower Hill School tennis courts last night, there was a palpable sense among the expanding courtside crowd that something special was unfolding before them.
The Archmere Auks girls’ team had come to Rising Sun Lane undefeated, looking to close out a perfect season. The three singles and two doubles matches started at 5:00 p.m., an hour later than usual to accommodate Advanced Placement exams. By 7:15 p.m., the teams had split courts 2-2, and all eyes turned to the epic battle unfolding on center court between first singles players Lexi Butler for the Hillers and Archmere’s Abby Podolsky.
It was to go on another hour and twenty minutes into the darkness of the spring night, the kind of match that makes high school tennis – and high school team sports – so gripping and memorable.
The competition and sportsmanship couldn’t have been finer. The first set went to junior Butler in a tie-breaker, 7-6 (7-1). Sophomore Podolsky struck back 7-5 in the second to even the match.
By this time, the galleries of teammates, coaches and parents had swelled to include onlookers alerted by text and Twitter that the match of the season was underway.
When Butler arrived at 5-4 and two match points at 40-15, many expected the drama to conclude. But it was not to be. Podolsky battled her way back, striking increasingly aggressive forehands to claw to deuce and then repel another three match points to knot things at 5-5. Moments later, Podolsky had held serve and she was the owner of several match points at 6-5.
Butler would not give up and the match went into a final third-set tie breaker in impossible darkness.
It took three additional match points and amazingly gutsy and creative play from both girls before Butler emerged with the victory, 7-5 in the breaker, the match 3-2 to Tower Hill and Archmere’s hopes of a perfect season dashed by the defending state champions.
Last night’s drama leads into a 2015 state tournament that is one of the most wide-open in years, with any one of five teams – undefeated Caesar Rodney HS, five-time defenders Tower Hill, Archmere, Charter School of Wilmington, and Wilmington Friends School – all having legitimate opportunities for the championship. Tournament play for both the boys and girls begins Saturday.
The Tower Hill boys’ tennis team concluded its second straight undefeated regular season, and now Tower Hill and Caesar Rodney both head into the state tournament with unblemished records.