A match that lasted almost four hours determined the outcome of the Somerset County Tournament at Green Knoll Tennis Center in Bridgewater on Sunday.
Defending champion Bridgewater-Raritan High School was leading Pingry School by just one point. If Big Blue’s top-seeded Christina Zajkowski beat the Panthers’ second-seeded Arthi Palani at second singles, the two schools would become co-champions with 21 points apiece.
But Palani prevailed in a nail-biting third set, defeating Zajkowski 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, amid frantic cheers from supporters, as Bridgewater-Raritan captured the trophy.
“Pingry got the first point today with Madison Stevens’ great match,” Bridgewater-Raritan head coach Curt Weaver said, noting that the two teams were tied at 19 points heading into the final. “We didn’t win a point until three hours into the finals — at first doubles.
“I’m very proud of my team because we had to play Pingry head-to-head on three courts — we knew it was going to be tough. To beat Pingry in three out of three matches was amazing,” Weaver added.
Final team scores were Bridgewater-Raritan 22, Pingry 20, Montgomery 14, Ridge 13, Watchung Hills 13, Gill St. Bernard’s 11, Hillsborough 8, Bernards 7, Mount St. Mary 5, with Somerville and Rutgers Prep tied at 4.
Though three of the five finals lasted three hours or more, Pingry’s top-seeded Madison Stevens was the first player off the court with a win. She downed third-seeded Krishna Patel of Gill St. Bernard’s 6-3, 7-5 in a high-level, fiercely contested match.
There were seven consecutive breaks of serve before Stevens finally held to win the first set. Patel, a freshman, didn’t go away, leading her rival 5-4 in the second set before Stevens closed the door.
“I’m so excited,” Stevens said. “This has been my goal since my freshman year, and I was really nervous before it started. I’ve been in other finals before, but this is the first time I’ve been in a final where I was representing Pingry.”
Stevens, a junior, was quick to praise her opponent.
“Krishna is a very strong player. It’s definitely the most competitive match I’ve had all season. She’s only a freshman, so I expect to see her back at counties next year,” Stevens noted.
“I feel like a champion, I guess, because I did my hardest,” Patel explained calmly. “She’s a great player and has more experience than me. I had nothing to lose this year because I have three more years.”
Pingry coach Lou Castelli said both players fought for every point.
“First, we want to congratulate Gill because that was a really hard-fought match,” Castelli said. “I think the differential was Madison played the big points very well. She really opened up the court with her inside-out forehand, and she was returning very well today. Lastly, she showed she has real grit out there — mental toughness. It made a real difference, especially when she was down in the second set.”
The Panthers’ top-seeded Marissa Sashihara trumped Big Blue’s second-seeded Naomi Wong 6-4, 6-3 for the third-singles title.
Twins Kaylyn and Avanty Kavi of Bridgewater-Raritan, seeded No. 1, beat Pingry’s Michaela Scrudato and Stephanie Carr 7-6 (8-6), 2-6, 6-4 to take the first-doubles crown. At second doubles, Montgomery’s Steph Allen and Tiffany Zhu defeated Bridgewater-Raritan’s Emily Arditti and Divya Yeleswarpu 6-2, 6-4 to capture the trophy.