BLOOMINGTON — Columbus North relied on its two freshmen, Ali Bergman and Eva Chevalier, Saturday to get to the championship of the Conference Indiana Tournament.
The Bull Dogs beat Bloomington North in a competitive match earlier this season, and Columbus North coach Kendal Hammel said he knew the Cougars would come back ready to play when the teams met again in the conference semifinals.
Bloomington North scored the first two points, but the Bull Dogs won the final three matches to pull out a 3-2 win in a match that was moved inside to the Indiana University Tennis Center following a couple days of rain at Franklin Central.
Twelfth-ranked Columbus North will play No. 9 Terre Haute South for the conference title, but the location and date have yet to be decided. The Bull Dogs and Braves already are scheduled to play in the regular-season finale May 15 at Bloomington North.
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“This is a good boost, no doubt about it, getting over this match going up against Terre Haute South,” Hammel said. “We’ll be ready. We want to play Terre Haute South. We were looking forward to it.”
Bailey Gardner scored the first point for the No. 25 Cougars, beating Madelyn Sanders 6-3, 6-3 at No. 2 singles. Bloomington North was only one match away from winning after Lillian McAfee and Isabel Flynn beat Servane Cloteaux and Shweta Srinivasan 6-1, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles.
Things began to turn for the Bull Dogs (15-2) after Yijiang Zhao beat Joy Bhattachary 6-3, 6-3 at No. 3 singles. With just two matches left to be decided, Aubrey Smith found herself up 3-0 in the third set against the Cougars’ Carolina Lopes.
Lopes battled back to win four straight games, and it looked as if Bloomington North might be on its way to the conference championship. Smith kept Columbus North alive by winning the final three games to win the match 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
“Carolina played very well, and I know Aubrey actually was not feeling well,” Hammel said. “She’s sick right now, so she was running out of gas and steam, but she just mentally changed her game a little bit.”
With the scored tied 2-2, the semifinal depended on the performances of Bergman and Chevalier at No. 2 doubles. They dropped the first set 7-5 to Sophie Fornefeld and Rachel Barrett, limiting the margin of error for the remainder of the match.
“We just kept telling ourselves, ‘We got it. We can do this,’” Chevalier said. “And just wondering what’s wrong with our mistakes, figuring it out and not letting ourselves down.”
The two freshmen found their rhythm and fixed the mistakes during the second set, winning it 6-0. Bergman and Chevalier had their backs against the wall trailing 4-1 in the final set, but managed to win the last five games for a 6-4 third-set win, sending the Bull Dogs to the conference final.
“It’s really nice, especially to know that we were the deciding match,” Bergman said. “It kind of boosts your confidence a little when you know that you helped out the team.”
Hammel is hoping that Saturday’s win for Chevalier and Bergman will prepare them for the remainder of this season and years to come.
“Give credit to the freshman girls,” he said. “The pressure was on them. It was their match to be given or taken for the team overall and they knew it … The freshmen were the big gear that pulled this off, no doubt about that.”