Region 5-AAAA Tennis Tournament

Canes outlast Grangers to capture region titles

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As Lydia Wiedetz sat on the hardcourt Thursday at Dellinger Park, she couldn't help but crack a smile.

The Cartersville junior had just fallen and scraped her knee trying, unsuccessfully, to return a shot during her Line 1 doubles match during the championship match of the Region 5-AAAA tournament. And even though she and teammate Alice Terry trailed in the first set at the time, the duo couldn't help but laugh as Terry helped Wiedetz back to her feet.

At that moment, it seemed as though all the pressure lifted off the shoulders of the couple of Canes. Terry and Wiedetz rallied to take the opening set by a 6-4 score and held on to take the second set by the same margin.

The victory secured Cartersville a 3-2 win over LaGrange to lock up the region's No. 1 seed in the upcoming Class 4A state tournament. Not to be outdone, the boys team also overcame the Grangers in a tightly contested matchup.

"We can't let the girls win and us lose," Cartersville's Will Allen said. "When the girls won, it was like, we have to follow up. We don't want to put a letdown on their win, as well. Credit to them, they played amazing today. It definitely motivated us to see them pull out their close win."

It's the second straight season the Canes have won girls and boys region titles.

"I always tell people, when you win your first one, you never know if you're going to win another one," Cartersville coach Brett Tolbert said. "This one is probably more special than last year. Even after we lost all those seniors, they set the tone for this year. We set the goal to be exactly what they were last year."

To repeat last year's success, the Canes will need to make a push in the playoffs. The girls advanced to the quarterfinals in 2018, while the boys reached the Sweet 16.

Getting the top seeds to set up identical first-round matchups with fourth-seeded Stephens County next week is a good start. Having earned the No. 1 seeds through tough back-and-forth matches is a great way to ensure Cartersville advances.

"It sets up for the second and third rounds [of state]," Tolbert said of Thursday's battles. "The first round, you're going to play a four seed. Not saying you're not going to get beat, but usually, you're going to win that one. In the second and third round, you're going to play tough competition.

"This set us up for knowing we can play with our backs against the wall — like they were at one point — and we can come back to win."

In regards to the overall scoreline, Cartersville never trailed Thursday on either side. That didn't mean the Canes led throughout on the individual lines.

In the girls action, which kicked off the championship round, Line 1 standout Ashley Popham was first off the court after not dropping a game to her opponent. Line 2's Emily Bush overcame a minor back injury in the second set to gut out a 6-1, 6-3 victory.

"I just told myself, 'She cannot come back on me. She will not win this match. I'm going to get through this,'" Bush said. "I wanted to get through it; I wanted to be done; and I wanted to win."

Bush has had a stellar freshman season. Between her and Popham, a junior, the Canes can rely on victories on lines 1 and 2 most outings. They picked up Cartersville's two points, when LaGrange produced a 3-2 victory in the regular season.

"It's very special, because we've worked really hard for this," Bush said of winning the region championship. "It's very good for us to win, and I'm excited to go onto state as a freshman. It's going to be fun. It means a lot. It was a good win, and it was exciting."

Thursday, the Grangers evened things up with straight-sets wins on Line 2 doubles (6-4, 6-2) and Line 3 singles (6-3, 6-3). It meant the matchup would be decided by Line 1 doubles — the match everyone had pinpointed as the likely tiebreaker.

"We knew that our match was going to be the deciding match," Wiedetz said. "We knew we would have to come in and play hard. We had a lot of motivation to win, because we did lose to them last time."

Despite suffering that setback in the region opener back in February, Wiedetz and Terry took the approach that the pressure Thursday didn't reside with them, but instead fell on LaGrange to try to repeat the performance.

"One of our teammates was saying, 'They have the nerves. Not us,' because they won earlier in the season," Terry said. "She said that to just kind of say, 'They beat us, so we're going to show them who's boss.'"

Well, early on, LaGrange was in charge. Cartersville had started to rally before Wiedetz took her tumble, but that lighthearted incident seemed to reiterate the duo's mantra.

"The biggest thing was just taking every single point as a new one," Terry said. "You couldn't let the other ones bother you."

The Canes pairing went on to take the first set, and they opened up  a nice lead in the second. But the Grangers mounted a comeback to pull within 5-4.

With Terry serving, LaGrange got the benefit of a couple double-faults to pull even at 30-all. The sophomore, though, managed to improve her toss in the breeze, as Cartersville won the final two points to clinch the title.

"It was really good to see them step up and pull it out," Popham said. "I knew it was going to be close, because they have so many good players, as well. I knew we just had to fight for it, and it was really good to see them win at the end of the day."

Popham, a rare veteran on this year's team, said this region championship tops last season's due to the push the Grangers gave the Canes. She added that it should give her team a boost entering the state tournament.

"It definitely gives us momentum and will definitely help keep us pushing forward," Popham said. "It gives us more confidence going into state than what we had, so that's definitely a good thing."

The Cartersville boys will feel the same way after knocking off the LaGrange. After edging the Grangers by a 3-2 score in the prior meeting, the Canes earned a 3-0 win this time around.

Just like the previous matchup, Luke Kottemann won on Line 2 singles, rolling to a 6-1, 6-3 victory, and the Line 2 doubles team of John Blackhall and Jackson Cline landed a vital point, downing their opponents by a 6-4, 6-3 score.

However, those were the only two lines on which Cartersville won the opening set. The Canes trailed on Line 1 singles, Line 3 singles and Line 1 doubles with their senior and top player, Allen, suffering a particularly demoralizing loss in a tiebreaker.

Having fallen to his opponent in the February battle, Allen had been looking forward to a chance to avenge his defeat.

"He's mentally tough," Tolbert said of Allen. "We knew going in, it was probably going to be a three-set match. Those two boys have played and played. His goal all year was to beat him. He said, 'Coach, if I get a chance to play him again, I'm going to win.'"

Allen proved himself right, pulling out a 6-3 win in the second set before hitting cruise control with a 6-1 triumph in the third.

"The word of the day for me was to keep grinding," Allen said. "I lost that first set, but I had to remind myself that was just by two points. I just had to stay loose and hit. Luckily, I was able to perform."

Allen's victory ended the overall match, as Tolbert pulled his other two lines. Griffin Shaw had just forced a third set on Line 3, and the Line 1 doubles duo of Luke Gambill and Nate McDonald were deep into a delicately balanced third set.

After having lost three of the five opening sets, Cartersville won all five second sets, showcasing their overall depth and stamina.

"I couldn't have done it without the rest of the team," Allen said. "I'm just one-fifth of the team. There's four other lines out there.

"I'm really proud of our [No.] 2 singles line Luke Kottemann and our [Line] 2 doubles, John Blackhall and Jackson Cline. They both clutched it up really well, getting the easy two-set wins to open the door for me to close it out."

With another region championship trophy in hand, Cartersville will look to keep the good times rolling in the state tourney. The boys dropped their second-round matchup last year to Blessed Trinity after having reached the semifinals in 2017.

If Thursday's showing in a pressure-packed environment is any indication, Allen thinks a run like the team went on his sophomore campaign is certainly a possibility.

"We're feeling really confident," Allen said. "It always feels good to get the close wins under your belt. It builds a lot more confidence than an easy beatdown.

"Going in having homefield advantage and having the crowd supporting us, it's going to be a good year for state. Hopefully, we can go deep."