They just needed one more.
South Forsyth’s boys tennis team, last year’s Class 7A champion, was defending its title in the state semifinals against Brookwood on Tuesday. After easy wins to start a hot day of competition in Snellville, the War Eagles were up 2-0 and needed one more victory to move on to their second straight state championship. With three matches going on at once, it seemed almost inevitable that one would break through to end it early.
But then the Broncos took two in a row, both in matches that came down to a decisive third set. Ultimately, Tuesday’s matchup came down to freshman Braxton Wright in No. 3 singles. The pressure on him ramped up as a noisy crowd of onlooking students surrounded the court, and went even higher after he lost his first set.
Like his teammates did, Wright pushed his match to a third set. However, he too fell just short of securing the final victory South needed, and the War Eagles lost 3-2 to end their season.
“He could've folded up,” South tennis coach Jason Steele said. “He just ran out of gas a little bit. He's the last one on the court with all these people yelling and screaming at him -- he could have easily quit, but he fought hard. He just got beat by a guy that played a little better.”
South desperately missed No. 1 singles player Will Fullett during their region championship matchup with Milton, which they just barely lost. But on Tuesday, the senior was back, and he easily won his match to put the War Eagles in good position early. The No. 2 doubles team of Vincent Wu and Austin Dreslinski secured South’s second win, also in fairly easy fashion, and the duo ended their season undefeated.
“Earlier in the season we lost to this team 4-1, so with Will in there, we barely lost,” Steele said. “We had chances.”
Those chances came in the form of the No. 1 doubles and No. 2 singles matches. The senior team of Anish Bikmal and Akhil Potturi went up early, but lost their last two sets. Sophomore Rishil Kondapaneni’s match was the second-to-last match to finish, and it ended in nearly the same way.
“I guess it's the question of, Would you rather just get beat soundly and know you have no chance, or fight as hard as you can and lose like this?’” Steele said. “That's a tough loss, and I feel for our seniors. But we had a great run last year with these guys and I thought they fought tough.”
Oddly enough, for South, a team that played four seniors on Tuesday, their weakness against Brookwood was youth. The War Eagles figure to be even younger next year, and they hope that Tuesday’s experience can help their returners going forward.
“(Brookwood) was mostly seniors,” Steele said. “Our 3 singles was a freshman and our 2 singles was a sophomore. They're going to learn from this, and we'll be back again next year and be just as strong as ever.”