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Tennis: South boys win first-ever state title
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Photo courtesy Jason Steele.

Under a scorching mid-afternoon sun at the Rome Tennis center at Berry College, the South Forsyth boys tennis team found itself in a uniquely precarious spot. 

The War Eagles had made it to the Class 7A state finals against Walton largely on the strength of their two doubles teams, which hadn’t dropped a match during the tournament, but the No. 1 doubles team of Jack Fullett and Kausik Murugan was the first of South’s lines to lose against the Raiders. The No. 2 team of Sahil Balhara and Vincent Wu, meanwhile, was a set down and trailing 3-1 in the second. 

“I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is not looking good,’” War Eagles coach Jason Steele said on Monday. 

But South didn’t reach the championship matches on a lack of resilience: This was a team lost twice to Lambert before the state tournament but went and beat the Longhorns in the state semifinals. And on Saturday, Balhara and Wu won the next five games and won the set 6-3 to tie the match at one apiece. They went down 4-1 in the next one, but again won five straight games and took the match. 

And because two of the War Eagles’ singles lines had already won, the No. 2 pair’s match point became the championship point, and South won its first state title in program history, taking three matches to Walton’s one.

“We kept believing we could do it, but until you do it, it doesn’t really sink in,” Steele said. “It was just an unbelievable excitement and still amazement that we were able to go all the way.”

With South’s top doubles line losing, the War Eagles’ singles players were forced into a more pressured situation. Sophomore Will Fullett, playing on the No. 1 line, fought through a tight first set, winning 7-6, and he showed his comfort with the hot conditions by cruising to a 6-1 win in the second set. 

“I normally play in that weather,” Fullett said. “Just a normal day.”

No. 2 singles player Rishil Kondapaneni had a match that was the reverse of Fullett’s, winning the first set 6-1 and the second 7-6, and Anish Bikmal was playing an exceptionally long match at No. 3 singles, one that he didn’t end up finishing. 

When the No. 2 doubles line completed their comeback, they first celebrated winning the match, but when the rest of the team stormed the court, they realized that the win locked up the whole thing.

“You could see the surprise on their faces when the whole team stormed the court,” Steele said.

The Lambert girls tennis team also competed in a state final matchup against Walton on Saturday. The Longhorns hung close with the Raiders, handing them their first two match losses since February, but they wound up falling 3-2.