HERSHEY — If it all fell apart for Meredith Lee halfway through the second set, she went out honorably.
Owen J. Roberts’ accomplished senior tennis star rebounded from a tough first set against Maria Santilli of District 7’s Norwin in the PIAA Class AAA singles semifinals to lead 3-1 midway through the second set. It was there, though, that the match turned for good.
Lee and Santilli engaged in a draining, epic 7-deuce fifth game that took nearly 20 minutes to decide. Santilli finally claimed the game on an unforced error by Lee, and used it as a springboard to win the next four games to close out Lee 6-2, 6-3 Saturday afternoon at Hershey Racquet Club.
The battle within the war seemed to take the starch out of Lee, while reinvigorating Santilli. Lee’s OJR career would later end in the bronze medal match with a loss to Jordan Bradley of Downingtown West 6-2, 1-6, 6-0.
“I just wasn’t as consistent from that point onward,” Lee said. “I was definitely missing more balls after that game. It would have been much better had I won that game, obviously.”
The game was the turning point in a match that featured Santilli dominating early, only to see Lee get her feet beneath her and hit stride as the match turned to the second set. Lee adjusted her court tactics by employing more net game — and it paid off.
“In the first set, she was really good at pushing me back, so I couldn’t really penetrate with me shots,” Lee said. “In the second set, I tried to the balls on the rise a little bit more to gain some more court and I tried to come into the net more, to take time away from her.
“Not all balls are the right balls to come into the net on. And obviously, she’s good with her ball placement. It kind of depends on both of us how the point’s gonna go. So I tried my best to get to the net but it always isn’t going to happen.”
Santilli — who later went on to claim gold with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Eliza Askarova of George Washington — reflected on the deuce game that may have saved her candidacy.
“Meredith and I are great friends,” Santilli said. “We play all the time. I just kept telling myself to get this game because it’s a complete momentum-shifter. So just fight for it one point at a time. Once you get that kind of jump, you have to take advantage of it. And I felt I did that pretty well.”