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Lions sweep 7-AAAAA tennis titles

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

DACULA -- With the Region 7-AAAAA Tournament finals down to one match, Austin Penman was where he wanted to be Thursday morning.

The only senior in the Peachtree Ridge boys' starting lineup, he and freshman Jasith Choppara had the region title hopes on their shoulders in the No. 2 doubles match. A victory gave the Lions the championship, but a loss meant the tourney went to rival Collins Hill.

The energetic Penman and the stoic Choppara didn't disappoint in their time to shine, winning a three-setter with Marcus Maloney and Peyton Rushing to cap a 3-2 victory. The Lions (11-3) reversed a 3-2 loss to Collins Hill during the regular season and earned the region's top seed for the state playoffs.

"I was kind of hoping to be (the last match playing)," said Penman, one of five seniors on the team. "I've never felt pressure like that before and I wanted to be part of it. I'm just glad I delivered."

The Peachtree Ridge girls also delivered a region title, albeit in much quicker fashion than the boys.

Still unbeaten against Georgia competition, the Lions rolled through the 7-AAAAA girls bracket without losing a point and capped that run Thursday with a 3-0 victory over Peachtree Ridge. The team lost just two points during the

regular season in region play.

"We won every match (in the tourney) 3-0 and did what we had to do, we took care of business," Peachtree Ridge girls coach Chrissie Bolt said. "We didn't overlook anyone. ... I've been pleased with how we've come together as a team. Tennis is kind of an individual sport, but from the people in the lineup playing to the people who are cheering, they've come together."

The Peachtree Ridge boys matched the girls title as noon was approaching, rallying from an early deficit in the championship showdown. The Lions scored the first point at No. 1 doubles when Jacob Kukler and Ian Krpo made quick work of Alec Rahmanian and Jake Inderrieden 6-2, 6-1, but lost the next two points thanks to Collins Hill's strong singles play.

Tyler Kallgren defeated the Lions' Brock Beisel 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 singles, then Collins Hill No. 1 Chris Clark beat Alex Makarenko 6-1, 1-6, 6-0. Kallgren and Clark, both 16-3 this season, gave the Eagles (15-4) a lead that held until the No. 3 singles match finished.

That's when David Wang beat Evan Padvorac 6-3, 6-3 to even the score at 2-2. From there, it was all on No. 2 doubles.

Peachtree Ridge won the first set 6-3, before Collins Hill sophomores Maloney and Rushing took the second, 7-5. The third set was tied 3-3 before Penman and Choppara won the final three games of the set, with the key being a service break in the eighth game.

Collins Hill won the No. 2 doubles point during a regular-season win over the Lions, but Peachtree Ridge brought a revamped lineup to the region final. Wang dropped from No. 2 singles to No. 3, Beisel moved from No. 1 doubles to No. 2 singles and Krpo switched from No. 2 to No. 1 doubles. Choppara played singles in the earlier Collins Hill match, but joined Penman on the clinching doubles team Thursday.

"We switched up our lineup a little bit to strengthen (No.) 1 doubles," Peachtree Ridge boys coach Matt Oberstein said. "We moved some guys around that made a difference. ... I'm proud of how well this team has meshed. Since we have a deep team, the guys are willing to play any position I ask them."

The Lions also feature a deep girls team, which won three points against Mill Creek before the last two matches could get going. Unbeaten singles players Jessica Northcutt and Mary Jeremiah scored two of the three points, with Northcutt beating Kristy Yau 6-4, 6-1 and Jeremiah defeating Michelle Yau 6-0, 6-0. Those two singles players weren't with the team when it suffered its only loss of the season to a team from Kentucky.

Ali Mills and Abby Owens gave the Lions (15-1) their other point of the 7-AAAAA finals with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Nela Handac and Allison Weaver.

The victory puts Peachtree Ridge in line for a quarterfinal rematch with powerhouse Walton, which eliminated the Lions in that round last season. This year's meeting will come at Peachtree Ridge, however.

Walton has won seven straight state titles and has a current winning streak of more than 140 matches, but the Lions hope to mount a challenge for this year's crown.

"We're playing well," Bolt said. "Hopefully we've started to play better at the right time of the season in the tournament."