With a chance to play for its first Central Section title since 2012, the Taft girls tennis team doubled down on Thursday.
Tied with No. 3 Highland after singles play, the host Wildcats took control of the match, sweeping all three doubles matches en route to a 6-3 victory over the Scots in a highly-competitive Division-IV semifinal.
Taft (23-3) will play at No. 1 Kerman in the finals on Tuesday.
“They’re all good doubles players,” Taft coach Bill Friend said. “So we feel very confident (when we get into doubles play).”
And for good reason.
The Wildcats’ No. 2 doubles team of Jessica De La Cruz and Jeidy Perez won the South Sequoia League doubles title. Taft’s No. 1 tandem features SSL singles champion Valerie Perez and league runner-up Arelie Paz.
On cue, the pair of duos were at the top of their games when Taft needed them most on Thursday, defeating Highland’s Assumpta Nandawula and Tiffany Brownfield at No. 1 and No. 2 Tyler Johnson and Tonia Escalante.
“They play good doubles, and we do, too,” Highland coach Sally Bentley said. “But they outplayed us in doubles (today).”
Taft started off strong in singles play, as well, winning the first set in four of the six matches.
Valerie Perez shook off a slow start and started rolling in her singles match against Nandawula. She won the last three games to take the opening set, but Nandawula turned the tables in the second set, winning 6-3 to force a tiebreaker. Perez then regained control with a 10-4 win, giving the Wildcats a 3-2 lead in the match.
Highland’s Crystal Madrigal evened the match at 3-3, rallying past Ivonne Gutierrez at No. 6 singles, 3-6, 7-5 (10-7).
“I’m very proud of the girls that played," Bentley said. "They’re out here, they worked hard to get where they are. They put in the time to become the players they are. They didn’t start playing until they were freshmen. So they’ve made a lot of progress. They played good tennis. We (just) got outplayed today.”
That set the stage for the Wildcats’ climactic finish in doubles play.
“You know, these girls have a lot of heart,” Friend said. “You probably saw how hard they played. They never quit and that’s hard to get from high school (players).”