LAKELAND – Madison Newbern’s tennis season was wiped out last year thanks to a broken tibia she sustained just as the soccer season was transitioning into the tennis season.
One year later, she played a vital role in Auburndale High’s bid to reach the state tournament in girls tennis.
Newbern, after dropping the first set, rallied to win her No. 2 singles match then teamed with No. 1 singles player Peyton Battilla to win at No. 1 doubles. That match clinched Auburndale’s 4-2 win over Orlando Edgewater on Thursday night in the Class 3A region final and sent the Bloodhounds to next week’s state tournament.
Auburndale’s victory completed a Polk County sweep as Lakeland boys also defeated Edgewater, 4-2.
Battilla and Newbern had already qualified for state as they won at No. 1 doubles. Now they get to go as a team and will begin play on Monday at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs.
“Honestly, I’m more excited for the team going vs. me going as an individual,” said Battilla, who had qualified as an individual last season but lost in the district final this year. “It’s going to be a lot more fun. We’re doing it right. We’re going to state the old-fashioned way as a team. We’re getting the whole experience.”
Battilla set the tone with her win at No. 1 singles as she defeated Gracie Benson, 6-0, 6-1. The Bloodhounds dropped matches at No. 3 and No. 4 singles to trail, 2-1, but Ali Spencer’s hard-fought-win over Neah Montgomery at No. 5 singles evened the match, 2-2.
“Ali had a fantastic season – district champion – and she won both her regional matches,” Auburndale coach Kevin Mulling said. “Lei She finished strong. Lei She’s playing as well as anybody right now.”
Meanwhile, Newbern was battling Omega Ba in a nearly-three-hour match. Newbern dropped the first set then trailed by a game throughout the second set before tying the match at 6-6 to force the tiebreaker.
Newbern then won the second-set tiebreaker and went onto win, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 10-4.
“The girl I was playing was really good, and I knew I had to stay focused and stay in it,” she said. “Kevin told me that every match was important so it was important that I won. Obviously, it helped that my teammates, my parents and my grandparents were cheering me on.”
Mulling kept convincing Newbern she could win.
“That was the most emotional match of the day,” he said. “That was amazing. She didn’t think she could come back. We talked several times during change-overs. She was giving everything she had. Mentally, she’s probably the toughest tennis player I’ve ever seen.”
Newbern’s strategy was simple – just keep returning every shot. “That’s always my strategy, get every ball back and do whatever I can to finish,” she said.
At No. 1 doubles, Battilla and Newbern, who also are soccer teammates, were in control throughout the match and defeated Benson and Ba, 6-3, 6-2, to clinch the team competition.
“This is crazy,” Battilla said. “We never even expected to win districts. When we won districts, we just took off from there. Don’t give up, we were so close.”
Lakeland boys beat Edgewater
With Lakeland and Edgewater tied, 2-2, Mike Fuentes won a tough, three-set battle where he twice staved off match points to win at No. 4 singles.
Fuentes’ win gave the Dreadnaughts the advantage going into doubles, and he and Sam Reeder clinched the 4-2 victory over Edgewater with their win at No. 1 doubles in the Class 3A region final.
The Dreadnaughts, who played a good portion of the season with just four players, will now play in the state tournament at Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs beginning on Monday.
“It’s just a blast,” said Reeder, who has already qualified for state at singles and doubles. “That’s all it is. It’s just a blast. It’s just a blessing. These guys (teammates), every one of them deserve it. I think we’re going to have so much fun. I couldn’t draw it up any better . “
Fuentes, like he did in the region finals, played in a tough three-set battle before prevailing, 6-3, 4-6, 11-9, over Edgewater’s Caiden Harrison. He had to twice fight off match points.
“It was very crazy,” Fuentes said. “I thought I was going to lose but I fought through it and won.”
Reeder had confidence in his teammate.
“When he’s down on those big points, Matthew always goes to a consistent style with that heavy forehand,” Reeder said. “He’s the best player on the team under pressure, for sure.”
Reeder, as he has been all season, was dominant in his win at No. 1 singles. He defeated McKay Shafer, 6-0, 6-1.
The Dreadnaughts got a boost with the return of Christian Larson at No. 2 singles. He defeated Askel Ostberg, 6-1, 6-2. Larson was injured four matches into the season and finally returned on Tuesday where he also played No. 2 doubles.
Edgewater won two singles matches. Luker Petterson, 6-2, 6-2, at No. 3 singles, and Miller Hardman defeated Miles Jeffares, 6-4, 6-4.
Instead of putting Larson back on doubles with Reeder, Haas kept Fuentes as the No. 1 doubles paring, and they defeated Shafer and Will Bower, 6-2, 6-2.
Roy Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.