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St. James Area edges Blue Earth Area for BSC tennis crown

POWER POINT — Blue Earth Area third singles player Arika Howard hammers a forehand return for a winner during the Big South Conference tennis championship meet Thursday at Hal Schroeder Courts in Blue Earth. Howard went on to win her individual match, but St. James Area rallied to edge Blue Earth Area for the team crown, 4-3. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

BLUE EARTH — An EF Hutton-esque setting.

Masked spectators actually could hear the sound of the final two players’ shoes squeak amid the eerie silence during the Big South Conference girls tennis championship meet’s seventh and decisive match.

Ellie Becker rallied for a three-set comeback victory at No. 1 singles to clinch the St. James Area Saints’ 4-3 triumph and team crown under the lights at Hal Schroeder Court on Thursday night.

“It’s pretty sweet to avenge our last two losses to them,” said St. James Area head coach Les Zellmann, whose lineup lost in both the BSC and Section 3A team finals to Blue Earth Area in 2019. “I was impressed with the way Ellie just kept grinding it out to come back after losing the first set to (the Bucs’) Te’a (Armstrong).

“Ellie is the player you want out there in the last match to determine the final team outcome, as is Te’a Armstrong for Blue Earth (Area). They’re both great players.”

Becker not only clinched the conference crown, but earned the 100th win of her stellar prep tennis career during Thursday’s clash of previously-undefeated titans. Both the Bucs and Saints entered the dual meet with 11-0 records.

“I’m retiring from the game,” Becker said playfully when asked if she plans to play at the collegiate level next season.

Becker and Armstrong traded a pair of hard-hitting 6-4 sets, with the Bucs’ captain pocketing the initial frame. Becker utilized her precision skills near the net during the third set to build a 4-1 lead before Armstrong assembled her own comeback to pare her deficit to 4-3. Becker, however, answered by using her effective slice shots to reel off back-to-back games to win the pivotal team point via the 6-3 third-set decision.

Fourth singles netter Addison Armstrong and the third doubles team of Cali Beyer and Olivia Dutton both paced BEA’s cardiac comeback from a 3-1 deficit on the team ledger.

Addison Armstrong used a steady barrage of backhand winners to sweep Eva Romsdahl at fourth singles, 6-2, 6-3, for the Bucs’ second team tally before Beyer and Dutton needed only 15 games to knot the meet at 3-apiece.

Beyer and Dutton, who were the final match to step to the six-court facility, coasted to a 6-0, 6-3 triumph over Emma Anderson and Sofia Solorzano.

The first doubles tandem of Gabby Trapero and Sailor Mohlenbrock, along with hard-hitting No. 2 singles netter Jaelyn Haler, swung an early 2-0 lead to the Saints.

Trapero and Mohlenbrock breezed to back-to-back 6-1 set wins over McKenna Dutton and Kylie Rosenau before Haler literally served a good-to-the-last-shot 6-4, 6-3 loss to the Bucs’ Marissa Benz.

Benz built a 3-0 first-set lead before Haler found the range on her high-velocity serve to reel off eight wins during the next nine games.

Arika Howard then countered for BEA by blasting her way by Mya Hanson during third singles action, 6-1, 6-3. Howard used her precision serving and forehand winners to narrow the Bucs’ team gap to 2-1.

Sam Tetzloff then delivered her best imitation of Michael Jordan in the clutch by demonstrating her recuperative qualities during No. 2 doubles play.

Tetzloff and Allison Bluedorn squeezed out a 7-6 (7-2) first-set victory over Lyndsey Borris and Britt Howard before the Saints’ duo trailed the Bucs, 3-0, in the second set.

After Zellmann taped up Tetzloff’s injured ankle, the St. James Area senior standout and Bluedorn assembled an incredible comeback to net an eventual 6-4 win over Borris and Howard en route to a 3-1 team lead.

“We’ll get another shot at them next week during the sectional team tournament,” said BEA head coach Konny Wolff.

The Saints and Bucs are scheduled to open the Section 3A team quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m. Monday, with the home site based on the upcoming seeding meeting.

2020 Big South Conference

Championship Dual Meet

St. James Area 4,

Blue Earth Area 3

Singles Bracket

• Ellie Becker (SJA) def. Te’a Armstrong, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

• Jaelyn Haler (SJA) def. Marissa Benz, 6-4, 6-3.

• Arika Howard (BEA) def. Mya Hanson, 6-1, 6-3.

• Addison Armstrong (BEA) def. Eva Romsdahl, 6-2, 6-3.

Doubles Bracket

• Gabby Trapero-Sailor Mohlenbrock (SJA) def. McKenna Dutton-Kylie Rosenau, 6-1, 6-1.

• Sam Tetzloff-Allison Bluedorn (SJA) def. Lyndsey Borris-Britt Howard, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.

• Cali Beyer-Olivia Dutton (BEA) def. Emma Anderson-Sofia Solorzano, 6-0, 6-3.

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