By Steve Rogers
WESTPORT — If Amanda Nicholas was late for Friday’s Red Sox game it’s her own fault. The Westport High School senior could have won her match in two straight sets but instead was forced to drag it out. At least she went to the game happy.
Nicholas, playing third singles for the school’s girls’ tennis team, was down 6-1 but came back to win an elongated third-set tiebreaker 12-10, to help the Wildcats past Coyle Cassidy in a non-league encounter at Westport Middle School.
“You just have to go a point at a time and do the little things right,” Nicholas said. “You can’t put too much pressure on yourself or you’ll mess yourself up.”
Nicholas’ 1-6, 6-1, 12-10 victory followed a 6-0, 6-1 win by Westport’s No. 1 doubles team of Layla Moran and Kelsey Cestodio. Zoe Shea and Melinda Tripp then earned the clinching point at second doubles and remained unbeaten with a 6-0, 6-1 decision to give the Wildcats a 3-2 victory.
“It was a huge win for us to beat a non-conference team,” said Westport coach Kaitlin Moran. “Especially when we’re counting it for the tournament. This is another step toward the tournament.”
The win pushed Westport’s overall record to 4-3 and the match was the first of four in a five-day span. The win also avenged a 3-2 loss to Coyle Cassidy a couple weeks ago, a match in which third singles was the difference-maker.
“That one came down to third singles,” Ross said. “We lost but it was a battle. So winning that third singles today was huge. That’s what we kind of aim for and practice for, settling that third position and staying confident.”
On Friday Nicholas won the first set handily. But the second set belonged to her opponent as Nicholas admitted to checking out, something her coach noticed.
“I won the first set pretty easily,” said Nicholas. “She came back the second set and I kind of got out of it mentally.”
“The first set she was up but the second set she seemed to get a little psyched out,” Ross said. “She wasn’t really playing her game. She kind of played her opponent’s game and got nervous.”
The same scenario ensued at the beginning of the 10-point tiebreaker. Then the momentum swung back to Nicholas.
“She was down 1-6 and she brought it back,” Ross said. “It was a huge mental battle right there to be consistent and stay on top of it. It was a very good match. Hats off to both of them.”
The overall match finished with the same results as the first match except for third singles. The Warriors have two very good players in the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spots and Westport’s Katie Rego and Emma Wilkinson each lost to them a second time. The losses are Rego’s only setbacks of the season.
Wilkinson and Rego have beaten all three of their Mayflower League opponents as have the rest of the Westport players. The Wildcats entered weekend play 3-0 in the league with all the decisions being 5-0. The non-league matches are where Westport players truly get tested and more often than not, third singles is the key match.
“Our doubles are pretty strong and our first and second singles face pretty tough opponents,” Nicholas said. “So it comes down to my position a lot. It’s okay. I’m pretty good with pressure. I don’t get too nervous so it’s all right.”
Ross said, “Third singles is pretty much what it comes down to a good amount of the matches, especially non-conference matches. Amanda has had, I think, three matches that have gone into the third set and she’s battled back.
“She’s very consistent which is good, and she’s quick. She gets to every ball. She’s getting them back and she’s making them mess up. Her mental stability is pretty strong.”
Westport’s win over Coyle Cassidy was its initial non-conference triumph in four tries. Division Three Westport plays 10 non-conference matches and nine Mayflower League matches. Its non-conference foes include Fairhaven, Coyle Cassidy, Bishop Stang, Case and Somerset-Berkeley. Three of the non-conference opponents are in Division Two. That means Westport plays six matches against teams in a higher division.
“I would rather play those kind of teams,” Ross said. “Because if we make the tournament, I would rather have our players see their speed, their consistency. I’d rather have them see that instead of playing a team that really doesn’t do anything for us when it comes time for the tournament. It’s good to play against teams that are going to give us hard competition and get us ready for the tournament if we make it.”
Since the Wildcats have beaten all three of their Mayflower League opponents handily the first time around, it’s easy to speculate Westport will be victorious against them the next two times they play. Still, injuries, illnesses and other hardships could occur.
“Things are going well,” said Ross. “In our conference our goal is trying to win the championship. As of right now we’ve got some pretty good heads on our shoulders so if we keep working hard then I think it can happen. But you never know.”