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At 4:30 Saturday afternoon, the Portland girls’ tennis team entered uncharted waters.
Junior Liza Iselborn put the finishing touches on her 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over McAuley junior Julia Haverty when Haverty hit a shot into the net, giving the Bulldogs their third point en route to a 4-1 home win over the Lions, sending Portland to its first regional final in program history.
The top-ranked Bulldogs will meet No. 2 Gorham Wednesday at 4:15 p.m. at Bates College with a trip to the state final on the line.
Elsewhere, Deering’s girls fell in the quarterfinals, 4-1 at Gorham.
In Western C, Waynflete’s hopes of another regional final date with rival/nemesis and defending state champion North Yarmouth Academy were dashed Saturday after a 3-2 loss to Dirigo in the semifinals.
On the boys’ side, defending Class C champion Waynflete continues to crush all comers, cruising to the regional final and setting up a date with Monmouth Wednesday.
In Western A, Deering and Portland were ousted in the preliminary round. Cheverus, meanwhile, made it to the semifinals before losing at top-ranked Windham.
After falling 3-2 to Deering in last year’s semifinals, the Portland girls didn’t graduate anybody and regained senior Audrey Seiz (who missed 2008 with injury). While the Bulldogs were expected to be in the hunt this spring, few thought they’d dominate to the tune of a 12-0 regular season (which was two more wins than any team had managed in program history) and the top seed.
Portland quickly disposed of No. 8 South Portland 5-0 in the quarterfinal round, then turned its attention to what was expected to be a fight to the finish against No. 5 McAuley (a 5-0 winner at No. 4 Windham in its quarterfinal) Saturday.
The teams had met four previous times in the playoffs with the Lions winning three. On May 26, in the regular season finale, Portland eked out a 3-2 win. Saturday, while all five matches were close, the Bulldogs continued their magical run.
First Portland took both doubles matches as juniors Corey Carmichael and Maggie Eismeier beat McAuley junior Danielle LaCasse and sophomore Paige Hickey 6-3 and 6-2 and Seiz and senior Greer Chapman downed Lions senior Catherine Tracy and sophomore Nicki Connolly 6-4 and 6-4.
While Bulldogs senior Maggie Swann and Lions senior Erin Woodbury were engaged in a three-set battle at first singles and Portland junior Mary Moran and McAuley freshman Addie Devine still had unfinished business at No. 2 singles, Iselborn had a chance to close out the match versus Haverty.
Iselborn won the first set, then the two went back-and-forth in the second, necessitating a tiebreaker. Iselborn quickly seized control, then put her team in the record books with the win.
At the same time, Swann was capping an epic comeback against Woodbury. Swann lost 2-6 in the first set and was down 2-5 and faced match point in the second set, but rallied to win, 7-5. Swann then finished the dramatic rally with a 6-4 third set win.
“It was match point in the second set, but I really didn’t want to lose,” Swann said. “I played her last year and lost and played her earlier this year and won a set. I’ve done better each time. I’m very competitive. I used my competitive edge to win. Some of it was luck and some of it was forgetting I was tired.
“It’s really fun. It’s a pretty big deal. I’m a senior and this makes my senior year that much better. I love my team. It’s been such a fun year. There was wishful thinking, but I wasn’t sure we could be this good. No one expected this.”
Devine then won McAuley’s only point, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 over Moran, to account for the 4-1 final score.
“It’s so exciting,” said Portland coach Bonnie Moran, Mary’s mother. “I was hoping for a 3-2 win again. I thought it could go either way. We’re well matched. I was confident, but they gave us a run for our money this first time. I thought three singles would be easier. I was hoping Maggie could do it. I’m so happy for her. She never gives up.
“I knew we’d be good because I knew we hadn’t lost anybody. Last year, in the playoffs, we were missing two top players and we were still good. We could have done this last year. I still wouldn’t have guessed an undefeated season. I’m more surprised today since they gave us a run for our money last time.”
Way back on May 4, the Bulldogs won 3-2 at Gorham. The teams have no prior playoff history.
“We beat them the first time,” Swann said. “It was close, but it was in Gorham and I think it made it more tense. I think it’ll be better to be on a neutral court. We’re starting to get some recognition, especially in our school. Tennis doesn’t get a lot of recognition, so it’s nice.”
“We’re well-matched,” coach Moran added. “I expect a battle. It will be exciting to play.”
McAuley wound up 10-4.
“I was happy with the season,” said longtime Lions coach Joe Kilmartin. “The other three matches we lost were 3-2. Today, I was very impressed by my No. 3 singles player. She changed it up. I was hoping to get a point from doubles. That’s where the game is won. My No. 1 singles unexpectedly lost. Maggie’s such a good athlete. She got on a roll.”
Despite losing Tracy and Woodbury, McAuley could be the favorite in 2010.
“We’ll give it another try next year,” Kilmartin said. “Anytime you lose a No. 1 it’s tough. We’ll have a lot of younger kids back.”
Deering went 8-4 this year and earned the No. 7 seed in Western A. The Rams beat visiting No. 10 Kennebunk 4-1 in the preliminary round, then lost 4-1 at No. 2 Gorham to finish 9-5.
Cheverus went 2-10 this year and failed to make the playoffs.
In Western C, Waynflete went 10-2 in the regular season, which gave them the No. 4 seed. In the quarterfinals, the Flyers held off No. 5 Dirigo, 3-2, but couldn’t handle Winthrop Saturday, losing 3-2, despite victories from seniors Christine Ordway at first seniors and Mariam Qazi at No. 3 singles. The first singles match came down to a third set, but seniors Liza Hall and Ellie Hallett fell 6-2, 4-6, 5-7.
Flyers boys primed to do it again
On the boys’ side, Waynflete appears to be the strongest team in the state regardless of class. After a 12-0 regular season, the Flyers earned the top seed in Western C and promptly eliminated No. 8 St. Dom’s, 4-1, and No. 5 Georges Valley, 5-0, to move into the regional final against Monmouth, a squad Waynflete doesn’t face in the regular season. A year ago, the Flyers beat Monmouth 5-0 in the regional final.
Cheverus, Deering and Portland weren’t as fortunate.
The Stags went 10-2 this year and earned the No. 5 seed. After winning 4-1 at No. 4 Westbrook, Cheverus had its quest for another improbable regional crown come to an end with Saturday’s 5-0 setback at Windham. The Stags (11-3) will give it another shot next year.
Deering finished 6-6 and earned the No. 9 seed. The Rams had to go to No. 8 Kennebunk and was eliminated 4-1 to wind up 6-7.
Portland went 4-8 this year, but got into the playoffs as the 10th and final seed. The Bulldogs were then ousted, 4-1, at No. 7 Thornton Academy to finish 4-9.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com.