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Sanchez saved some of her best tennis for last

October 29, 2013

Photo: Matthew Preston

PAWTUCKET—When people remember the Narragansett girls tennis team winning the 2013 Division II Championship they’ll remember Eily Sullivan erasing a 4-1, third-set deficit to clinch the title five games later against Toll Gate.
They’ll remember Brooke McGreen and Ashley Kennedy surviving a slew of match points to close out their match 11-9 in a third-set tiebreaker at No. 2 doubles or Olivia Scalora dominating her match at No. 1 singles after falling to the same opponent in three sets just nine days earlier.
How about MacKenzie Page and Sarah Hoxsie imploding in the second set ahead 5-1 against Westerly, only to turn a 15-40 deficit in the 11th game into a 7-5 set victory to clinch the Mariners’ first trip to Slater Park?
It’s hard to overlook the fact that seven of the 12 matches ’Gansett won in the playoffs came from doubles. Kristen Gershkoff, Kara Heatherton and Maddie Gilbert also won matches along the way.
What people won’t remember is what the Mariners did at No. 4 singles.
It’s understandable; if you look at the box score you won’t see a point from that spot on the ladder on either side against Classical, Westerly or Toll Gate.
That’s because during the three matches not once did the No. 4 singles match finish – mainly because senior Mariana Sanchez was playing as well as anyone on the team and wouldn’t let them.
In the opener against Classical by the time the match finished – after nearly an hour of playing – Sanchez was only midway through the second set, holding a slim lead after dropping the first.
Against the Bulldogs there were only two matches going on late and everyone was watching Page and Hoxsie figuring it was only a matter of time until the duo closed out the match after racing out to a big lead in the second set.
While everyone watched the doubles Sanchez quietly grinded through her match. The attention – or lack thereof rather – was of little concern to the Mariners’ senior.
“I don’t mind,” Sanchez said. “I want my other teammates to win but going back to Tuesday I didn’t finish but I don’t mind it as long as the team wins. I love winning too but it’s a team sport.”
She had an opportunity to take the first set ahead 5-4 with the game tied 40-all but dropped the rally and ultimately the game 7-5.
As she has done all season, Sanchez didn’t let the early deficit bother her and battled back to take the second set. When Page and Hoxsie regained their mojo and closed out their match, Sanchez was gridlocked 5-5 in the third set.
“Mariana apparently considers the first set a warm up,” Narragansett coach Peter Barlow said with a smile. “We’ve played 15 matches and she’s played probably 10 or 11 three-setters and the other night I thought she was phenomenal.”
So there she was Saturday at Slater Park, doing what she does best; fighting for every point.
Almost as expected she dropped the first set and had her back up against the wall in the second but once again Sanchez fought her way into a tiebreaker – which she won 7-3.
Riding the momentum she raced out o a 2-0 lead in the third set but dropped four straight games after failing to convert on an opportunity to take a 3-0 lead.
By the time Sullivan finished her comeback Sanchez was on the verge of taking the seventh game, undoubtedly destined for five more games.
While her matches may not have technically counted, don’t think that Sanchez presence on the court wasn’t critical in the Mariners’ run.
Just ask Sullivan.
“It definitely did,” Sullivan said. “The focus wasn’t all on mean so that was helpful.”
When the lights came on at Slater Park Saturday not only did they illuminate the court but at the same time shrouded the crowd in darkness.
During the final game of Sullivan’s match it was absolutely silent when the two players rallied, with only the sounds of intermittent volleys filling the air.
Just having another game going on one court over was huge to break up that silence as you’ll be hard-pressed to find a higher pressure situation than playing for a championship with nothing but your thoughts in your head.
Yet their Sanchez was, always giving her team a chance to win if the match happened to fall on her shoulders.

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