Flashes take 1A tennis title

Published 11:34 am Thursday, May 10, 2012

JACKSON — A new banner will soon be unfurled at the Halls Ferry Tennis Courts.

St. Aloysius clinched the Class 1A team title and the accompanying banner with huge performance Wednesday. The Flashes upset defending champion Sacred Heart of Hattiesburg 4-3 at Millsaps College.

The state team title is the first for St. Al since 2000 and the eighth overall. The Flashes won six straight from 1992-98 under coach Tony Dodgen, now the tennis coach at Alcorn State University.

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For St. Al senior Ashleigh Piazza, the wait was worth it.

“It feels great because so many times, I’ve come in second,” Piazza said. “To win the team title is such a great note to end on.”

Piazza and her normal doubles partner, Jean-Marie Mabry, got ousted late Monday night in the semifinals of the girls doubles division. Against Sacred Heart, she had a new partner, Alexa Baldizon, as St. Al coach Rick Shields juggled his lineup and found the right combination to win four match points.

“When they told me for sure that our match would determine who would win, I remembered the Monday match with Jean-Marie,” Piazza said. “We were up big in that match and lost it. I just tried to keep Alexa calm and myself calm. I made a couple of mistakes at the net and that cost us a game. But we came back and won the next two games. I was never so glad to see that last ball go over my head and out.”

The errant return gave Piazza and Baldizon the win at 6-1, 6-1 and clinched the team title with the decisive fourth point.

St. Al’s other two seniors, Carlton Campbell and Mabry, were pretty happy with Shields’ moves even though they lost the last match of the day in mixed doubles, 6-1, 6-1.

“If he hadn’t made the moves he did, we might not have won it,” Campbell said.

Mabry credited St. Al’s depth of 12 strong players.

“We’ve played them the last three years and haven’t gotten past them, but today, we showed we’re a pretty versatile team,” Mabry said.

Shields was all smiles. He moved his boys singles player, Austin Mathis, to No. 2 doubles and teamed him with his younger brother, Aaron. The pair won their match 6-3, 6-4.

“We hadn’t played them together in a match this season, but they’ve played tournament tennis together and I’ve used them in practice to get Steven (Cialone) and Michael (Foley) some good practice,” Shields said. “What surprised me was Sacred Heart moved their No. 1 team down to No. 2 to play them.”

Sacred Heart’s team of J.P. Andy and Bo Wilkins — who reached the 1A doubles semifinals — could not handle the big serve of Austin Mathis. After Andy and Wilkins won two straight games to make it 5-4 in the second set, Austin Mathis closed out the match by winning four of the final five points off his serve.

“We play a lot together, so it felt normal to me,” Austin Mathis said.

Cialone and Foley rolled to St. Al’s first point with a 6-1, 6-0 win. The pair won the 1A doubles title Tuesday at Mississippi College.

The second point came when sophomore Kori Vessell won her singles match, 6-0, 6-2.

Vessell did not mind the challenge of the team title riding on her shoulders.

“I think the pressure helped me,” Vessell said.