MOUNTAIN HOUSE — It took a minute for Caitlyn Morrow to process what had just happened as doubles partner Brianna Villalobos and the rest of the Sierra girls tennis team reveled in their stunning 5-4 victory over previously-unbeaten Mountain House on Monday.
“We actually did it,” Morrow later said. “We pulled it off.”
The stunned expression on her face said it all soon after their opponents’ final return went wide. The seventh-seeded Timberwolves are moving on in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs and have their No. 3 doubles team to thank. Morrow and Villalobos battled back to beat Noor Manjal and Tina Le, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Sierra travels to Sacramento to face No. 3 Florin, which defeated sixth-seeded Dixon in its opener. Mountain House, which boasted a 15-0 record coming in, was the No. 2 seed.
“I have confidence in my third doubles because they’re the only team that has been playing together for pretty much the whole season,” Sierra coach Ed Melfort said. “I felt confident if it had to come down to them, but you still don’t want it to because they’re both first-year players.”
Their inexperience showed, at times. They also put their athletic ability and competitive mettle on full display with all the attention on the final and deciding match.
Morrow and Villalobos fell behind 0-2 early in the third set but rallied to win the next five games. They were two points away from ending it ahead 30-0 in the next game, but Manjal and Le put up a fight of their own as the Mustangs duo battled back to take two straight games.
“I had to calm my nerves down,” Villalobos said. “That was the big thing. Focusing on getting my strokes in and remembering she had my back.
“I think we let our excitement get to us for a minute.”
Some of the more veteran players also had some trouble putting away wins for Sierra. Nos. 2 and 3 singles players Nadia Petrovic and Melanie Nguyen, who were part of the team’s SJS Division IV runner-up team two years ago, came through for three-set victories that lasted more than two hours.
At about the two-hour mark, Mountain House had taken a 3-2 lead with its No. 2 doubles team of Udaiyaa Bommudurai and Erin Su nearing its 6-3, 6-2 sweep of Varsha Bala and Kendall Sellars
Petrovic and Nguyen were needed for the Timberwolves to have a chance. Nguyen edged past Saanvi Chilakapati, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Petrovic then finished off Elyse Low, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
“I definitley felt the pressure of knowing it was a determining match,” Nguyen said. “It was so intense that I was even talking to myself at one point.”
Jasmine Sebastian picked up another key point for the Timberwolves, ousting Katherine Smith 6-4, 6-3 and No. 5 singles. The No. 1 singles match was the first to end, as four-year standout Kaitlyn Rausa took out Sana Patel 6-1, 6-2 in a clash between league champions — Rausa recently claimed her second Valley Oak League singles title, while Patel topped teammate Low in the Western Athletic Conference final.
Mountain House’s singles points came from No. 4 Bella Bucoy (def. Livleen Kaler 6-1, 6-4) and No. 6 Kylie DeCroos (def. Victoria Zellner 6-1, 6-4). Ify Ikechiuku and Crystal Chum knocked off Sydney Trump and Bianca Dunga at first doubles, 6-0, 6-3.
“I’m not going to lie, at first I thought they were stacking but I quickly realized they didn’t,” Melfort said of the two-time defending WAC champion Mustangs. “Their players are interchangeable, that’s how deep their team is. I can see why they were undefeated.
“What happens in girls tennis is there’s usually a big drop-off somewhere like from second to third doubles, but I never saw the drop-off. That’s why I got real nervous.”