The South Effingham girls tennis team had been wanting a road trip for a while.
They got the journey they’ve been waiting for for a long time.
Jessie Kessler outlasted Amanda Auerbach in a marathon three-set match at No. 1 singles and sent the Lady Mustangs to the Class AAA state semifinals with a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Lady Blue Devils at The Corral on Friday.
“It’s about time,” exclaimed South Effingham coach Christi Wood.
In the pivotal singles match, which lasted more than three hours, Kessler rallied from down a service break and won the final four games in the third set for a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory.
A year ago, Auerbach beat Kessler in straight sets as Columbus stopped South Effingham in the quarterfinals.
“I thought about it,” Kessler said of the defeat last year. “I really (didn’t) feel like losing again.”
The match between the two teams was back and forth on a sunny and windy afternoon. Columbus’ Daniella Glover dispatched Courtney Edenfield 6-0, 6-0 to take No. 3 singles. Columbus went up 2-0 when Katie Bishop and Rachel Sebastian beat Kylie Adams and Raven Giles 6-2, 6-4.
Allison Williford got the Lady Mustangs a point when she claimed a 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 win over Mary R. Cripe at No. 2 singles. The Lady Mustangs’ top doubles team of Cassie Hiatt and Katherine Perrin battled their way past Erin Sexton, who won the deciding singles match between the two teams last year, and Alex Stewart 6-3, 4-6 and 6-4 to even the match — and leave it all up to Kessler and Auerbach.
“They kept their composure,” Wood said of her team, even as things looked bleak again early. “They kept their composure to stay in it and be patient. That won it, being patient.”
Auerbach had take a break in the first set as she became sick to her stomach and vomited off the court. She had take another similar respite in the third after breaking Kessler’s serve to go up 3-2.
“I felt bad for her,” Kessler said.
Meanwhile, Wood continued to reassure Kessler, even as the rallies between her and Auerbach continued.
“I kept telling her, ‘you’re OK, you’re OK,’” Wood said. “I knew she could do it. I was praying the whole time for her. I could see her calm down and get it together.”
Kessler broke serve, held serve and broke again for a 5-3 lead. On match point, Auerbach’s return found the net first, settling on her side of the court and setting off elation among the Lady Mustangs.
“I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to see,” Kessler said of the final point.
Even with the six straight heartbreaks in the quarterfinals, Wood remained convinced this day would come, when South Effingham would make the state semifinals.
“I always think we can,” she said. “But this group didn’t have any obstacles. They wanted it, and they stayed focused. I knew they could it. I’ve been telling them that.”
The Lady Mustangs wanted that one trip this year — the state semis will be held May 9-10 at the Clayton County International Park — for Hiatt, the team’s only senior.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Kessler said. “We’re all just excited.”