Oct. 31—Just when you thought there wasn’t any magic left, the Liberty girls tennis team dug deep into its bag of tricks and pulled off the unthinkable on Tuesday.
Trailing by a set and down 4-2 with the match hanging in the balance against No. 3 Garces, Patriots junior Jili Soriano rallied to win the next four games and then took control in the tiebreaker to lift No. 2 Liberty to a 5-4 victory over the Rams in the Central Section Division I team semifinals.
“She lost the first set so bad I thought, we’re just going to lose, and that’s OK, we’ve had a great season” Liberty coach Chris Campoy said. “But she just ran away with it and never looked back. Gili just came alive.”
“She had improved so much. Last year she would have folded, but this year her shot selection is so much better … under pressure. All the rest of the matches are over and she’s out there playing. She knows what’s on the line. Everybody’s yelling … it’s tough. Especially in singles. That really shows what kind of person you are, one-on-one.”
The Patriots will now travel to face top-seeded San Luis Obispo in Tuesday’s Division I championship match. The Tigers defeated No. 4 Clovis North 5-0 in the other semifinal.
“I really just had had to calm my nerves and settle myself down,” Soriano said. “It just kind of allowed me to play more confidently. I just kind of took off from the second set. I was pretty relaxed and that helps my form a lot. I was focusing on my form for every shot and the placement. I wasn’t really thinking about power or anything like that.”
Even more unbelievable is that the victory was the Patriots’ third of the season over Garces — the two-time defending D-I champions — with all in similar dramatic fashion.
“Three times against Garces … unbelievable,” Campoy said. “I hadn’t beat Garces in six years, and they’re tough, but I was feel like when we play, we’re a tough team, and we don’t have a lot of tennis players. We have two tennis players and the rest are purely athletes. They play other sports, and in fact, they don’t even take the tennis rackets home with them. They leave them in a bag. They don’t practice at home. They don’t take any lessons. So that’s even more remarkable that they go out there and tough it out.”
After defeating the Rams 5-4 at Liberty on a 11-9 tiebreaker in the third set, the Patriots duplicated the feat in the rematch, with Soriano winning a 14-12 tiebreaker to clinch her team’s first league title since 2008.
“For me, it kind of added more pressure just knowing that I had beaten her once before,” said Soriano of her match against Garces’ Jade Eddy. “Like I was expected to beat her again. At first in made it more nerve-racking, but then I was able to know her game a little more. Knowing she’s a lefty, so I hit it to her backhand a little more and down the line, stuff like that.”
And when Eddy failed to return Soriano’s shot on match point, the Liberty sideline began to celebrate.