MARIETTA The Walton girls knew for weeks their six-year-old winning streak would be tested if they faced Peachtree Ridge in the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals.
The No. 2-ranked Gwinnett County team gave Walton a scare on its home courts, but the Raiders persevered and won a 3-1 decision over the previously undefeated Lions.
The victory improves Walton's winning streak to 131 straight matches, which is three wins away from tying the Taylor County girls basketball team record of 134 straight wins from 1968 to 1972, according to the National High School Federation.
Walton outmatched Peachtree Ridge at doubles. Amelia McIssac and Claire Marshall won 6-2, 6-0 at No. 1 and Marissa Pulido and Kayla Brady were leading 6-1, 4-0 at No. 2 before the match was called. But all three singles matches could have gone either way, and Walton needed to win at least one of them to be assured a victory.
The Raiders ended up getting two victories at singles. Stephanie Falcon defeated Abigail Owens 7-6 (3), 6-2 at No. 3, and Emily Zabor survived a tough three-set battle (6-3, 3-6, 6-4) over Peachtree Ridge star Mary Jeremiah at No. 1 for the final point.
Jessica Northcutt defeated Walton's Maxie Weinberg (7-5, 7-6) at No. 2 singles for Peachtree Ridge's only point.
"We knew it was going to be tough," Walton coach Roberta Manheim said. "We knew how strong (Peachtree Ridge) were, but once again, our girls rose to the challenge."
While Walton was quickly taking care of business at No. 1 doubles, there were plenty of intrigue in the first sets of all three singles matches. Zabor won hers 6-3, knowing Jeremiah still had plenty of fight left.
Weinberg lost her opener, 7-5, after leading 4-2, and Falcon finally prevailed in a tiebreaker after losing a 5-4, 30-0 lead on serve.
It turns out that Falcon's win at No. 3 was the turning point. She said she took Manheim's advice after Owens rallied to take a 6-5 lead in the first set and that was to play to Owens' forehand and attack her backhand.
Despite cramping in the second set, Falcon's strategy paid off. She never once lost her patience and concentration, Owens started making more unforced errors, and Falcon gave Walton the singles win it needed.
"I am so happy," Falcon said after winning her match. "I had to pull this one out because I knew that No. 1 and No. 2 singles were going to be tough."
At No. 1 singles, Zabor and Jeremiah had difficulty holding their serve during the first two sets both players returned serve exceptionally well and ended up splitting them, 6-3.
Zabor gained momentum in the first game of the third set when she broke Jeremiah at love and held her serve during the critical times. She fired an ace at 40-15 to take a 5-3 lead, and she held serve at love to win 6-4.
"I was able to pick my spots (while serving) and make good shots afterwards," Zabor said.