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STORY: Miraculous comeback sends Heritage into state doubles tournament
Tonique Merrell and Creighton Jones rally from the brink of elimination to defeat a Great Bridge tandem and get second place at the regional.
BY SONNY DEARTH
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NEWPORT NEWS -- Heritage coach John Atiomo said it was strategy. Junior Tonique Merrell called it "divine intervention; I can't explain it."
Whatever the case, Merrell and freshman Creighton Jones pulled off a miraculous comeback Tuesday afternoon at Huntington Park that gained the Peninsula District its only berth in the state Group AAA tournament this year for boys or girls.
Merrell and Jones rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the second set to upend Great Bridge's Bryce Parrish and Owen Alberti 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4) in an Eastern Region doubles semifinal.
Both Heritage players, who grew up in the tennis/academics program for at-risk children known as An Achievable Dream, will compete June 7 against the Northwest Region champions in the state doubles tournament at Huntington Park.
An hour after their victory, Merrell and Jones took a frustrating loss in the final to Ocean Lakes' Ben Wirth and Ryan Suit, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5, 6-2. The Hurricanes led 3-1 in the second set and, at 5-all, lost two marathon games to succumb in the second set.
Wirth and Suit, as they had done in the previous two rounds, won the second and third set after losing the first.
"After we had been up, it got a little frustrating," Jones said. "We had it, but we let it go."
In the morning singles finals, Wirth and Cox's Shannon Rogers repeated as champions. Rogers and Abbey Wexel later won the doubles.
Wirth, heading to William and Mary's nationally ranked team in the fall, turned back Granby's Stas Stekolstsikov 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to become the first boy in 17 years to win a third consecutive crown. Rogers, bound for the University of Southern Mississippi, defeated Princess Anne's Stephanie Macdisi 6-1, 6-2.
It had been a disappointing regional for Peninsula players, and Heritage was continuing that pattern -- playing on Court J-1, where several PD entries had fallen in the past two days. But at 1-6, 2-5, Atiomo said, he convinced both of his players to stay behind the baseline when Great Bridge was serving, making Heritage less vulnerable to putaway volleys by the Wildcats.
"When we went far back, it kind of threw them off," Atiomo said.
Immediately, the tide turned. At 5-all, Jones lost his serve, but the Canes broke back and won the tiebreaker.
In the third set, Heritage went ahead 4-2 but was broken for 4-all before all four players held serve to force the tiebreaker. After Great Bridge went ahead 2-0, the Hurricanes capitalized on several Wildcat errors to go ahead 6-2. A wild Jones forehand and a Great Bridge winner made it 6-4, but Jones deftly angled a short volley for a winner to end the match.
"At first it was kind of bad," Jones said. "The second set, I started picking my game up."
Last edited by Sonny Dearth : 05-22-2007 at 06:09 PM.
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