G-P, Pigeon Forge split on the courts
Jennifer Miller spent much of the last several games jumping up and down like the ground beneath her feet was on fire.
The Gatlinburg-Pittman assistant tennis coach was understandably anxious. Her daughter, Katherine Miller, and Lexi Hansen were locked in a second doubles battle against Pigeon Forge’s Avonlea Wilkinson and Natalie Holbert. The winner would clinch the match and the Highlanders duo had already blown a couple opportunities to do.
Finally, the younger Miller emphatically smashed a ball across court at the net to give G-P the 5-4 win over its rival.
“It was awesome,” Katherine Miller said. “That’s the best shot any athlete can ever have. … I’ve never actually beaten Pigeon Forge before and this is the best feeling ever.”
Miller and Hansen’s 9-7 victory was a fitting end to a wild day at Mynatt Park. Both team scores, including Pigeon Forge’s 6-3 boys victory, came down to doubles. The Tigers swept the three boys doubles points, clinching the win when Daniel Delozier and Ethan Williams won 8-6 at second doubles following an 8-2 first doubles victory from Garett Byrd and Chad Gibson.
The teams split singles, with Pigeon Forge winning the top two boys matches behind Byrd and Gibson. Ben Roberts (third), Noah Bettis (fourth) and Eddie Wear (sixth) gave G-P singles wins while Cale Bramer won for Pigeon Forge at fifth singles.
Dhara Patel (first), Rosa Amaya (fourth) and Natalie Holbert (fifth) gave Pigeon Forge wins in the girls singles while Maddie Riggs (second), Lexi Hansen (third) and Claire Ballentine (sixth) won for the Highlanders.
That left all the pressure on doubles.
“As a coach, it’s probably the most nervous time in a match when it’s tied 3-3 and you’re having to win doubles,” said Tigers coach John Griffis. “You’re nervous. I’m moving back and forth trying to see. You kind of know your players so you know areas where you think you have a chance to win points.”
The coach had to keep a close eye on his girls during a day of wild swings. Holbert and Wilkinson led 4-1 before the Highlanders rallied to eventually clinch the match. It wasn’t any easier at first doubles for Pigeon Forge’s Dhara Patel and Hailey Dominique. They led 6-3 over Cassidy Yaksic and Madie Riggs before the Highlanders rallied to tie the match at 6-6. But Patel and Dominique rallied to give the Tigers a shot on the far court.
“I told my partner, ‘OK, we have to win. This is G-P, our rivalry, we have to win,’ ” Patel said. “I had confidence in myself because I won 8-1 in our singles. … We just focused and hit every shot and kept on hitting the winners.”
Fighting back from those little lapses was the key on Tuesday. Byrd won the first seven games of his singles match with G-P’s Tanner Cox before surrendering three straight. He said he had to calm himself down, which he did, to finish the 8-3 win.
Hansen had the same kind of struggles trying to finish of Wilkinson in their singles match early in the day. The Highlander led 7-6 and 8-7 before the match went to a tiebreak where she gave up three match points before finally winning 9-7 in the breaker.
It was the kind of match that left coaches and spectators alike on the edge.
“It definitely starts to get in your head towards the end,” Hansen said. “But you’ve kind of just got to push through it, think positive.”