WHITEMARSH >> As Tristan Bradley stood at the back of Court No. 2 at Plymouth Whitemarsh during Wednesday afternoon’s District 1 Class 3A Team Tennis Championship, he tried desperately to stay loose. The Unionville junior and No. 1 singles player was leading in a first-set tiebreaker against Lower Merion’s Sean Attebery, but had to wait as the Aces’ top player took a medical timeout for a gnarly blister that, by his own account, cost him half the skin on his right palm.
As Bradley waited, he cheered through the fence as teammates Clay Horowitz and Ethan Fitzsimons battled with Lower Merion’s No. 2 doubles team of Harrison Axlerod and Aseda Ademabgme.
Whether Bradley’s shouts of encouragement actually helped Horowitz and Fitzsimons is to be debated. But there’s no argument the Unionville duo’s heroics helped make history for the Indians. Horowitz and Fitzsimons fought off one match point in the third set and battled back from 5-2 down to win the match, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) and keep the team alive, leading to a clinching win from Bradley in a 3-2 Unionville win.
The result, in a rematch of last year’s team final, prevented Lower Merion from clinching its fourth straight District 1 team title.
“I honestly thought we were going to lose because we were down on so many courts,” said Bradley, who finished off the hobbled Attebery, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, to clinch the crown. “Ethan and Clay fought back from 5-2 down and won it. I just tried to stay focused and gave up a couple games there, but managed to come through at the end.”
Due to two lengthy injury timeouts for Attebery, the No. 1 singles match was only in the second set long after the other matches had been completed. That meant Bradley’s win technically clinched the crown for Unionville. But it was Horowitz and Fitzsimons who picked up the biggest win of the day.
With the teams splitting the singles matches — thanks to wins by Unionville’s Ethan Bradley at No. 2 singles and Lower Merion’s Vikas Miller at No. 3 — and an easy win for Lower Merion’s No. 1 doubles duo of Omosesan Adebamgbe and Jared Robinson, the Aces were up 2-1 with two matches remaining.
That meant all the attention was on a fiery match at second doubles that included more than a few disputes about calls and jubilant screams on both sides. Horowitz and Fitzsimons were staring defeat in the face, down 5-2 in the third set and fighting off a match point at 5-4, before clawing back and taking a 6-5 lead.
Axlerod and Adebamgbe showed some fight of their own at that point, evening things up at 6-all after a marathon game that featured seven deuce points and plenty of “oohs” and “ahs” from the fenceline.
“We knew we had to pull that through or else we were losing,” Horowitz said. “We were down 2-1 in the second set and came back to win that. We had done it before and we came back and started coming to the net and came back and won.”
In the tiebreaker, the momentum swung back to the Unionville duo, as Fitzimons put away an overhead slam to finish things off and tie the team match at 2-2.
“That 6-5 game was a tough game. Seven deuces and they dropped it,” said Unionville head coach Sharon Largent. “To lose that game and then be able to come back and win in the tiebreak showed a lot of mental toughness. That’s what I was so happy about. [In Tuesday’s semifinal] they had seven match points against Council Rock North, and they finally won on their eighth match point in a different game. So I told them, ‘This will make you stronger.’”
Once the doubles matches were complete, everyone turned toward the No. 1 singles duel between two of the top players in the district.
Attebery powered through the hand injury to very nearly force a third set, but Bradley played smart and composed in the latter games, forcing Attebery to move and hit backhand returns off his powerful forehand. In the end, Bradley’s power was just too much, and Unionville was left to celebrate and prepare for the PIAA Championships, which begin Tuesday.
“I just hit a regular forehand in the first set and half the skin on my hand fell off,” said Attebery, who never once blamed the loss on the injury, despite clearly struggling with it. “I tried to play through it, because I felt kind of unsportsmanlike calling a medical timeout three points into the tiebreak. But I felt like I had to. The trainer tried to put something on it and it didn’t work out too well. I dropped the tiebreak pretty easily and she retaped it after the set and it helped. But Tristan stayed focused the whole time and played well.”
Both teams move on to the state tournament, along with third-place finisher Great Valley, fourth-place Council Rock North and fifth-place Conestoga.
Unionville will face either Hempfield or Cumberland Valley, while Lower Merion will meet the District 12 champion. All of those matches take place Tuesday at Legacy in Manayunk.
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