PAWTUCKET — Lillian Conti's thrilling three-set victory at third singles lifted the East Providence High School girls' tennis team to the Division III championship, 4-3, over previously unbeaten Classical Saturday morning, Oct. 29, at Slater Park.
Conti, who finished her season unbeaten at 18-0, rallied from a set down and losing 1-3 in the third to eventually win her match and earn the championship clinching point. The junior defeated the Purple's Emma Levanos 5-7, 7-6 (7-3) and 6-4.
The title is the second all-time for the Townies, who also won the Division III crown back in 1993 over Scituate. E.P. was making its third-ever finals appearance, also making the championship round though losing to Rogers in 1992.
The III-A regular season winners, the Townies finished their season with an 18-1 record, matching the best-ever mark posted by the 1993 championship squad. For Classical, winners of III-B during the regular season, it finished with same 18-1 record, but minus the all-important playoff title.
Before Conti's clincher, the Townies earlier received victories from Mary McBride and Tess Amore at fourth and first singles, respectively, as well as from their unbeaten No. 2 doubles tandem of Rachel LaValley and Jessica Costello.
"I'm unbelievably proud of everything about this team. This is my senior year and it's the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me," said Amore, the Townies' senior captain and team leader who has played from the No. 1 singles position in three of her four years on the squad.
"Lily really, really pulled through. She knew what she had to do, and she did it. Everyone did," Amore continued. "Victoria (Luchi) lost, but I thought she played one of her better matches of the season. Mary played well. Everyone did. This is a really, really good team and we were able to pull through. I'm just so proud. I never expected this. This is awesome."
McBride beat Lyndsey Goldstein in two hard-fought sets, 6-3 and 7-5. Amore recorded a victory Sarah Brosofsky, Classical's ace who retired up 2-1 in the second set after dropping the first, 6-1. Brosofsky had been battling a chest ailment the last few weeks. The duo of LaValley-Costello was the first to score a point Saturday, securing a 1-and-0 win over Classical's pairing of Maxine Wo-Minna Hammarstrom.
"This was awesome. It was so cool knowing you were playing for the championship," said LaValley, like Amore and fellow doubles performer Arianna Seagrave, a senior. She and Costello went 17-0 in matches they played together during the season. LaValley actually went 19-0, winning one match each while playing with Seagrave and Emily Ramsey.
"We have really good communication out on the court," LaValley said of she and Costello. "We talk the whole time. We know where we need to be on the court. We have each other's back. I definitely knew coming into the year we would play well, but I think we did great. The whole team did."
Things started nearly as well as they eventually ended for the Townies Saturday. East Providence took early leads in five of the seven matches played. But Classical found some form, making almost every outing competitive save for two dubs.
After Amore played one of her better sets of the season from the top spot to win the first and then her opponent retired, East Providence was up 2-0 overall. The Purple puts its initial marker on the board when the third doubles team of Julie Batista-Helena West beat E.P.'s Ramsey-Seagrave, 6-4, 7-5, the difference being only a break of serve in each. And soon after, Classical's top tandem of Julianne Rudner-Alicia Terrero polished off E.P.'s Tess Lyons-Meg Amore, 6-3 and 6-4, to knot the overall score at two apiece.
With McBride seemingly cruising to her victory at fourth singles up a set and 5-2 in the second, much of the focus shifted to the two other remaining matches, singles bouts between Conti and Levanos as well as Classical's Jillian Brosofsky vs. the Townies' Luchi at the two spot.
But McBride lost a bit of the momentum when she twice couldn't hold serve to close out the Purple's Lyndsey Goldstein, who responded by winning the next three games to tie the score at five. In the meantime, Jillian Brosofsky closed out Luchi (2-and-4) to suddenly give Classical its first lead of the day, 3-2. McBride, though, regrouped to her credit, winning the last two games to finish off her straight sets win and set up the dramatic finish at third singles.
There, very little separated Conti and Levanos. Losing the first set and trailing in the second, Conti displayed belief and determination which have been the hallmarks of the Townies all fall. Her hard, flat first serve also began to find the range and she also started moving Levanos around the court more, opening up angles to put away points.
"In the first set I didn't know it was all coming down to me," Conti said. "I didn't know until the second set when my captain came over me and told me this was all on me, you need to win it for the team. And I knew I couldn't be selfish for myself. I knew I had to do it for the team. During the third set, I knew it was all down to us. It was either her or me who was going to win it. So I just tried to focus."
The trend of Conti falling behind, unfortunately, continued early in the third set. She trailed 1-3 before winning the next two games to level the score. Levanos, though, broke Conti's serve immediately to regain the lead. But Conti, likewise, broke and then ended the run against serve by holding her own, including two aces and a third un-returnable serve, to go up 5-4.
The crowd had already swelled around the final match, building up the intensity of the moment even more and obviously affecting the players. Conti added to the drama when at times she bent over at the waist or crouched low to the court between points, even leading the referee to ask if she was OK. She certainly was.
Conti gained immediate control of what proved the final game, going up 40-15 with two match points. She deftly set up the first, moving Levanos to the player's left, but her attempt at an angled cross-court shot found the net. She didn't, however, waste her second try at the win and the championship. Conti concluded a multi-stroke rally by nailing a forehand just inside the baseline. The shot caught Levanos wrong-footed. She couldn't get it back and stunned momentarily did not make a call. The Classical coach, though, like just about everyone with a view of the shot, acknowledged that it was good, giving Conti her 19th victory of the season without a loss and the Townies their second league championship in school history.
"At first I was wondering what she was going to do," Conti said of the final point. "Was she calling it in or was it out and were going to deuce? But I knew it hit the line, so I was just waiting for her to call it in. And once it was called in, it was just a big sigh of relief. I was like, oh my god, it's over. We won."
East Providence Post and eastbayri.com staff photographer Rich Dionne took the accompanying gallery of pictures from the championship match.