For the first time this season, the Del Norte girls tennis team split the singles matches 3-3 and the Warriors needed to win two of three doubles matches against McKinleyville to remain undefeated.

Del Norte ended up winning all three doubles matches, to pull out a 6-3 victory over the Panthers on Saturday in Crescent City.

“We are elated that we were able to win the match,” said Del Norte head coach Samuel Escobar. “The fact that it finished 6-3 feels better than a 5-4 win, we feel like we soundly beat them even though the score doesn’t really show how close the match actually was. Probably the best part about this match was it got the kids that much closer to a league championship.”

With the win, Del Norte improves to 11-0 overall this season and the Warriors have now won 13 matches in a row and are 32-1 in their last 33 matches dating back to the 2015 season.

“We are doing really well as a team,” said senior No. 4 player Diana Loban. “Everyone is trying their best. Hopefully we will be league champions.”

With the score tied 3-3 after the singles matches, Del Norte’s No. 3 doubles team of Aliyah Rafalowski and Danika Scott made quick work of McKinleyville’s MeLissa Kingham and KaLissa Schuchard with a 6-3, 6-2 victory.

That win put the Warriors ahead 4-3 overall.

The No. 2 doubles match was the next one to finish. Castly Thao and Diana Loban jumped out to a 6-3 win over McKinleyville’s Laura Costa and Hailey Boyum, but Thao and Loban found themselves trailing 4-3 midway through the second set.

Costa, a foreign exchange student from Brazil, joined the team late this season and didn’t face the Warriors in the team’s first matchup this season. Costa proved to be an upgrade at the No. 3 singles spot as she handed Thao her first singles loss of the season with a hard fought 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 singles victory.

“It was definitely a tougher match than usual,” Loban said. “I think we were nervous a little bit. But we did our thing like we usually do. We talked to each other during the match, congratulated each other after each shot, and just continued our team play.”

Needing a win to secure the team victory, Thao and Loban buckled down to win the last three games and pull out a 6-4 victory to give Del Norte its decisive fifth win of the day.

“We were aware of that, so we were trying to do our best to win this match overall,” I was so relieved when we won. We were really happy about that.”

The No. 1 doubles match was the last one to finish on Saturday. After Del Norte’s top two players, Bailee Drown and Jasmine Pearson both lost their singles matches to their McKinleyville counterparts, the Warriors came together for one of their best doubles matches of the season, however, and managed to pull out a 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory in the match.

“The match that we were most excited about was seeing our No. 1 doubles beat the McKinleyville girls,” Escobar said. “We were most impressed with their communication, their teamwork, their shot selections, and their execution of shots. This was obviously the best match that they have played together as a team.”

Although both the Warriors top two girls lost their singles matches, Escobar was impressed with the improvement that both players showed from the first matchup against the Panthers in September.

Drown ended up falling 6-1,6-2 to McKinleyville’s Jen Jolin, who is the favorite to win the Humboldt-Del Norte singles title later this month.

“Bailee recognized that she was outmatched,” Escobar said. “The McKinleyville No. 1 player is just a very good player. But Bailee did everything that she could, and she did it right. She had good shots, good placement, good serves and she tried to vary her shots. The other girl was just a good player.”

Pearson matched up against Meigan Butler in a No. 2 singles match between two of the top players in the league at their position. Butler was able to outlast Pearson for a 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-2 victory.

“Similar to Bailee, Jasmine was aggressive, she had good shots, she was willing to try new things that we have worked with her on, but the other girl was good,” Escobar said. “I think Jasmine was as skilled as her opponent, but the other girl was just a bit more steady and consistent.”

Although Del Norte lost in the top three doubles matches, the Warriors depth once again came through with lopsided wins in the No. 4-6 spots.

Loban beat Boyum 6-0, 6-0 in the No. 4 match to remain undefeated in her singles matches this season.

“Loban continues to just dominate people in the No. 4 position,” Escobar said. “She is clearly out matching all the other kids. At this point in the year she has only lost three games total. We are definitely pleased with her play.”

Scott dominated Kingham in the No. 5 singles match with a 8-1 victory, and sophomore Aliyah Rafalowski picked up an 8-2 victory over Schuchard in the No. 6 match.

“We have been impressed with Aliyah’s progress,” Escobar said. “She has just made steady improvements throughout the whole year. She is getting more consistent in her serves, getting more consistent in her shots, and getting more consistent with her stroke.”

Del Norte’s victory over McKinleyville give the Warriors a little bit of breathing room in its quest for a second-straight Humboldt-Del Norte League championship.

The Warriors are the last undefeated team in the league this season while the Panthers are all alone in second place with two losses.

Del Norte will be back in action today with another home meet against Eureka. The meet will begin at 3:30 p.m.

Reach Michael Zogg at mzogg@triplicate.com.

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