The day didn't start off well for the Heritage girls tennis team. But sometimes it's how you finish.
Alix Maloney won in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1 at No. 3 singles and Stephanie Humphries recovered from dropping the first set 6-4 to win the next twon 6-4, 6-2 at No. 2 singles to lift Heritage to a 3-2 victory over McIntosh in the Class AAAA quarterfinals. The Patriots will play in the Final Four for the first time in school history.
McIntosh ran out to a quick 2-0 lead thanks to dominant play from No. 1 singles player Marybeth Black, who ousted Taylor Maloney in a 28-minute, 6-0, 6-0 victory, and the Chiefs' No. 1 doubles team (Stephanie Halpern and Kelsey Paone), winners in straight sets over Callie Alford and Amanda Voyles.
"She's a really good player (and) Taylor's seen a lot of talented players," Heritage coach Brian Smith said. "(Black) has got a lot of skill; she's right up there (with the best players Heritage has faced)."
The Patriots didn't quit. The No. 2 doubles team of Kaylee Humphries and Keeli Smith won in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3, over Rachel White and Sofia Koval to cut the McIntosh lead to 2-1.
Alix Maloney, a freshman, started slow but rallied to take control of her No. 3 singles match against fellow rookie Charlotte Kemp and tie the match at 2-2. The spotlight shifted to Humphries, and the team's captain and only starting senior didn't disappoint. The service game became a vital weapon in the final set against Kathryn Moore, whose own service game faltered.
"I saw everyone migrate," Humphries said of the crowd shifting from Maloney's match to hers. "I can't let them beat me in my house (and) the pressure helped; it motivated me to win faster. I'm excited because that hasn't happened to me before."
"It was a dog fight," Smith added. "Stephanie is our only senior ... there's nobody else I wanted in that position. She stepped up her service game (and) her experience certainly paid off for us."
Heritage will await the winner of Glynn Academy-Bainbridge in the Class AAAA Final Four, which begins May 8 at Clayton County International Park.