WEST ISLIP — Lindsay Merker could handle the pressure she faced on the tennis court. It was what followed after the match that caught her off-guard.
After Merker delivered the result that enabled the Bishop McGann-Mercy High School girls tennis team to play another day, she was mobbed by joyous teammates. The surge of emotion she felt was evidenced by the tears of joy that rolled down her cheeks.
It was Merker’s dramatic victory in her fourth singles match that earned the Monarchs a rare place in the quarterfinals of the Suffolk County Team Tournament. The senior pulled out a tiebreaker triumph over Kate Winter, lifting 24th-seeded McGann-Mercy to a 4-3 upset of the No. 8 West Islip Lions on Thursday.
With what has to be considered one of the biggest wins in team history, League VIII champion McGann-Mercy (16-2) claimed a place in the quarterfinals tomorrow against the No. 1 Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds (13-1). McGann-Mercy Coach Mike Clauberg said it is either the first or second time that the Monarchs have advanced this far in the team tournament.
“I’m still in shock,” Merker, who called it the greatest moment of her tennis career, said while cheers of the team’s happy fans could be heard in the background.
After coasting through the first set, 6-2, Merker took a 5-2 lead in the second set. Then things got interesting.
Winter recovered to win the next four games for a 6-5 lead, but failed to capitalize on four set points. Merker forced a tiebreaker and then cruised, 7-0.
Merker said she felt confident going into the tiebreaker. “It’s also mental because you have to never let yourself get down because once that happens, it’s all over,” she said. “You have to always stay mentally tough.”
Players and fans from both teams watched the final match of the day with great interest. Merker said she wasn’t aware of the significance of her match and was glad she didn’t. But she liked the cheering, which she said helped her focus.
“I knew I had to stop her and not let her beat me for a third set,” Merker said. “I made a lot of errors that I shouldn’t have made, like drop shots, but errors happen. No one’s perfect.”
Clauberg said he was happy for Merker.
“If I had to pick any kid to get that win for us, I would pick her,” he said. “She is just a coach’s dream. She’s a nice person. She works so hard during the off-season, probably [the] most committed tennis player I have on the team.”
West Islip Coach Kevin Lewis said the performance by Winter was typical of her in the sense that she is a battler. The coach said that during the match he gave Winter some advice. “I said, ‘All I want you to do is stay focused and try your best,’ ” Lewis said. “I said, ‘If you try your best, that’s all you can ask of yourself.’ ”
Merker can thank her sister, Shannon, for the part she played in helping set up the pivotal fourth singles match. It was Shannon Merker and Taryn Enck who brought McGann-Mercy a vital win at second doubles, tying the team score at 3-3. They prevailed in three sets over Kelly Kickel and Teresa Oskinis, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
Thanks to wins from the first three singles matches, League III champion West Islip (13-2) held a 3-2 lead in team points.
Despite troubling back pain that hampered her serve, Erin Collins, a senior transfer from nearby St. John the Baptist, persevered in a 6-3, 6-2 defeat over Ashley Yakaboski in first singles. Collins put only 64 percent of her first serves in play, but she also committed only two double faults and broke Yakaboski’s serve six times.
In Yakaboski, a virtual ball-return machine, Collins was facing a player much like herself.
“All defense,” said Collins, who had ice taped to her back after the match. “That’s kind of the style that I play, so when I play with someone with the same style, the points are going on forever.”
The other two singles matches were settled in two sets as well. Sam Sienkiewicz was a 6-0, 6-0 winner over Elizabeth Barlow, and Kerri Coughlin recorded a 7-5, 6-0 win over Cassidy Lessard.
But doubles has been a point of emphasis for McGann-Mercy this year, and it has made a difference. The Monarchs took all three points from doubles.
The first doubles team of Erica Blanco and Kayleigh Macchirole produced a 7-5, 7-5 defeat of Ibrianna Frame and Amanda Gedrey. In third doubles, Stefanie Blanco and Maryann Naleski downed Emma Lytell and Alia Rafig, 6-4, 6-1.
“Everybody contributed in such a strong way,” Clauberg said. “Everybody fought.”
West Islip had won all five of its previous 4-3 matches this season, but this one went against the Lions.
Shock waves may reverberate throughout the county because of this result, but the Monarchs are not surprised. Some of them said they were just underestimated. The Monarchs might have proved that their 4-3 victory over the No. 9 Patchogue-Medford Raiders in an outbracket match seven days earlier was no fluke.
“We’re pretty good,” Lindsay Merker said. “We have some good players.”
West Islip wouldn’t argue that point.