Friendswood head tennis coach David Cook would be the first to agree Tuesday’s Region III-6A quarterfinals with No. 22 state-ranked Humble Kingwood was super exciting, super frustrating and super long.
But Cook also can admit Kingwood played a tad more super in the clutch, winning 5 of 9 decisive third-set tiebreakers, the end result a heartbreaking 10-7 season-ending loss to the District 21-6A team tennis champions at Deer Park High School’s south campus courts.
“I felt we weren’t as aggressive as they were in the supers,” Cook said after the seven-hour-long match. “But I’m pretty proud of my kids.”
Friendswood, ranked No. 24 in the state, found itself in a deep 6-1 hole after the doubles, going 1-3 in super-tiebreakers in the early matchups.
“We would have been up 4-3 if we win all the (doubles) supers,” Cook said. “It was a close, close match. We just didn’t start well on the scoreboard.”
But the Mustangs did respond by claiming three of the first four singles matches to be completed, then pulled within 6-7 and 7-9 deficits before Kingwood eventually won the matches it needed, two of those again in super-tiebreakers.
The 10th victory was a 10-6 tiebreaking win by Kingwood’s Michelle Valenzuela in the No. 5 girls singles, Valenzuela finishing off the match with a blistering forehand winner past a determined Faith Bias.
“It was a matter of a set here, a set there,” Cook said. “After we lost that No. 1 boys singles, we won a bunch in a row. We could feel (the comeback).”
Even more devastating, though, was the fact the final two singles matches on court were working in favor of Friendswood when the dual match was stopped.
Kiertan Patel had just won the first set in his No. 6 boys bout with Quinn Davis, and Alex Reyes was leading the second set in her No. 6 against Ashley Jackson.
Turning in the only doubles win for the Mustangs was the girls No. 2 team of Emily King and Reyes with a 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 12-10 nail-biter over Emma Loken and Valenzuela.
Friendswood lost the other two girls doubles matches also in three sets, then suffered the same fate in the No. 1 boys doubles, where Ethan Bui and Race Haas saved three match points in the second set before succumbing to Ben Berkheimer and Dalton Locke 7-5, 6-7 (11-9), 10-8.
“I thought that No. 1 boys doubles was incredibly well played by both teams,” Cook said.
Haas answered with a tiebreaking win over Andrew Gryce in the No. 2 boys singles, 2-6, 6-3, 10-3, to start the Mustangs’ comeback.
Also delivering singles wins in order were King and Nina Gonzalez at the Nos. 4 and 3 girls, respectively.
King east past Emma Bayless 6-1, 6-2, then Gonzalez followed with a 4-6, 6-2, 10-7 thriller over Kate Woods.
Moments later, the Mustangs’ Quinn Radtke had little problems putting away Lauren Legg in the No. 1 girls singles, 6-3, 6-0, and Natan Bondin held off David Moore in the No. 3 boys singles, 6-2, 3-6, 10-7, cutting Kingwood’s lead to 7-6.
Adding to Friendswood’s singles win total was Alex Wachowicz in the No. 5 boys matchup, where he toppled Kieran Tillis 6-4, 6-1.
“Quinn played lights out, Alex played awesome and Natan played a great gutsy match,” Cook said.
However, the rally ended when Kingwood pulled out its three final wins, including a 2-6, 6-2, 10-7 valiant effort by Noah Smistad against Grey Davis in the No. 4 boys singles.
“Not only am I proud of the kids, I’m proud of the season they had,” Cook said. “I felt we got better as the season went on.”
Cook pointed out the Mustangs rarely played a match this fall at full strength either because of injuries or illnesses.
Also, “We had 10 new starters in the lineup that did not play as starters last year,” Cook said.
This also was the first year for Friendswood to be ranked in Class 6A and the furthest for the Mustangs to advance in the postseason as only a fourth-year 6A participant.
“I’m very proud of our team’s resiliency and performance this year,” Cook said. “We can still get better.”
Friendswood, District 24-6A’s third-place finisher, ended its season at 14-5, with all five losses coming at the hands of state-ranked programs.