WATERVILLE, Maine — Joe Thomas knew the importance of first-set tiebreakers long before he faced that situation with an Eastern Maine Class A championship at stake Wednesday.
“We haven’t had that many tiebreakers,” said Thomas, a senior who plays third singles for the Mt. Ararat of Topsham boys tennis team, “but all of my matches this year have been close like that with tiebreaks or back-and-forth deuce games. I’ve had a lot of close matches.”
Mt. Ararat played first-set tiebreakers in three of its five matches during its regional final against No. 3 Hampden Academy at Colby College — and won all three of them, providing the decisive points in a 3-2 victory that earned the fifth-seeded Eagles their first regional crown.
Top-ranked and undefeated Brunswick, the two-time defending Class A girls state champion, won its third straight EM title, sweeping No. 2 Hampden Academy 5-0.
The Mt. Ararat boys (10-5) and Brunswick girls (15-0) advance to Saturday’s state finals at Bates College in Lewiston.
Thursday’s Western Maine finals have undefeated teams from Falmouth — up by enrollment from Class B a year ago — facing Deering of Portland in the boys match and Portland in the girls encounter.
The Falmouth girls squad has won six straight Class B state championships and 107 consecutive team matches. This year the Yachtsmen have yet to lose a single set.
“It will be different,” said Brunswick senior and top seed Maisie Silverman, a four-time state singles finalist and 2012 state individual champion. “Because Falmouth’s there, our attitude is, ‘Look, it’s our last match together ever,’ so we’re going to go out there happy and ready to win, we’re going to go out there with a positive attitude, and if we’re positive and we have great sportsmanship, we’re the real winners in the end.”
Brunswick won each of its matches against 12-3 Hampden in straight sets.
Third seed Leah Soloway, one of five seniors, scored a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Olivia Gower to secure Brunswick’s first point, then senior Ali Stankiewicz topped Kristi Reichel 6-1, 6-0 at second singles.
Brunswick clinched the match when its first doubles tandem of Samiera MacMullen and Kyra Wolpow topped Bekah Boomer and Kelly Martin 6-3, 7-6 (3), just before Silverman fought off a spirited second-set challenge from Hampden top seed Ashley Woodside for a 6-0, 6-4 victory.
Brunswick’s second doubles team of Lyse Henshaw and Elizabeth Day capped off the sweep with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Sarah Boomer and Melissa Reichel.
“Winning was a definite aspect today, but we’ve played them before so on the court it wasn’t just to win but to have some fun as well,” said Woodside, a senior who reached the state singles quarterfinals this spring. “We’re just happy we made it this far and were able to come out of this with something.”
The boys match provided more drama, with three highly contested matches after Hampden’s second doubles team of Noah Parker and Kyle Townsend and top-seeded Mt. Ararat freshman Nick Mathieu swapped straight-set victories.
The remaining matches all were extended to opening-set tiebreakers. During those tense moments Thomas knew the regional championship may be on the line.
“The first set I got to a tiebreak and realized I needed to win this because [Mt. Ararat second seed] Mike [Crawford] was playing right next to me and he hadn’t won his set yet,” said Thomas. “So I just tried to zone in and focus on winning that tiebreak because it becomes a lot easier when you get the first set.”
Thomas’ 7-5 tiebreak win over Will Huston was the last of the tiebreakers to be decided, after the Eagles’ first doubles tandem of Trevor Mayo and Eric Knight edged Brandon Chasse and Matt Harris 7-4 and Crawford outlasted Hampden’s Filip Bilek 7-5.
Mayo and Knight then closed out their match with a 6-1 second-set victory, but Mt. Ararat needed one more point to avenge a 3-2 regular-season loss to a Hampden team making its fourth straight appearance in the EM final.
And with Bilek rebounding for a 6-1 second-set win at second singles, it looked to be up to Thomas.
“We felt pretty good about first doubles, but Mike went three sets the first time we played Hampden and I wasn’t playing the same guy as before but I felt all right about it,” he said. “We were just hoping to get one of the second and third singles to win.”
Thomas won the first five games of the second set, then closed out the match one game later against Huston — a junior who became Hampden’s third singles player midway through the season.
“In matches like this when you know it’s going to be tight, sometimes it’s the little things that can come up and bite you,” said John Plourde, who is retiring after 15 seasons as Hampden’s head coach. “I think those tiebreakers played a big psychological edge, particularly in Will’s match because he hasn’t had as much experience and I felt if he’d have won that first set it would have given him some momentum and maybe carried us through.”