Exeter shocks Bedford in final

Sometimes the ball does not bounce your way. Unfortunately for the Bedford High School girls tennis team, that is what happened in the Division I championship against Exeter.

The No. 3 Blue Hawks claimed five of six singles matches to walk away with the hardware, 5-4, over the No. 1 Bulldogs at Manchester West High School on Wednesday.

The match came down to the No. 5 match, where Exeter’s Rachel Salzman rallied from a 6-1 deficit to knot the score at 8 against Anli Zhang. In the tie-breaker, Salzman’s match point came on a shot that clipped the net and dropped into Zhang’s side.

“Today was just not our day,” said senior captain Jennica Collette. “You can’t do anything about having a net ball with the game point.”

Bedford’s lone win came at No. 3, where Abigail Ramsay took an 8-5 decision over Anna Heard. Ramsay held a 4-3 advantage at one point, but sprung to take four of the final six points.

“(Exeter) didn’t make any errors and that was really the difference maker,” said Bedford coach Kristen Perez. “Who won and who lost was who could keep the ball in play the longest.”

Exeter’s Katie Wood took an 8-5 victory over Julie Aichinger in the No. 1 match while Melissa Wood defeated Anna Corrao, 8-4, at No. 2. Kate Lietz beat Anitha Machupalli, 8-4, at No. 4 and Maylene LaPress fell to Abby Aleska, 8-6, at No. 6 after a competitive duel that featured several lead changes.

“I really liked the fight out there,” Perez said regarding her team’s effort. “A few courts were down early and they didn’t just throw in the towel. They gave it their all and fought to the end and that is all that we can ask for.”

Knowing how strong Bedford (16-1) had performed in doubles this year, Exeter (15-2) knew it needed to get the job done in the singles.

“I knew we needed to come out strong in singles,” Exeter coach Lisa Packard said. “The idea was to put pressure on Bedford right from the start and hopefully win the first point. We’re a pretty consistent team and we try to keep that ball coming back and not to make the first unforced error.”

The Bulldogs wrapped up their perfect regular season with a 6-3 victory over the Blue Hawks on May 22.

“Going into this as the No. 1 seed, the team to beat and an undefeated season, I think a little more pressure was on our shoulders and I think Exeter handled it better today,” Perez said.

It was Bedford’s second consecutive loss in the finals, but with all six starters returning next year, there is reason to be optimistic. The top three players also had the experience of playing in a championship atmosphere from a year ago, but not the latter three.

“We should be a threat for a while,” said Collette on her team’s future. “They’ll be perfectly fine and in capable hands without us.”

Collette and Sydney Fontaine are the only ones who will be lost to graduation.