Avni Bali and Neeharika Kishore entered Saturday’s NJSIAA doubles quarterfinals as Cinderella, and the clock never struck midnight for the South Brunswick High School tandem.
Instead, the unseeded pair returns to the ball Sunday for the semifinals after upending third-seeded Joanna Fass and Jillian Garfunkel of Montville 6-4, 6-3.
“We just came to play and represent our school, and to do this great is unexpected,” said Bali, a junior, who credited, “our partnership and how we help each other and support each other. Whenever we aren’t together, we lose. Throughout this tournament, the ups and downs, we stayed as one unit.”
Just by reaching the quarterfinals, Bali and Kishore broke new ground for South Brunswick.
“This was a little program history here,” Vikings coach Nancy McDonald said. “The key was the freshman taking charge at the net and making net shots. Avni, the other one, is a fighter out there. She’s the feisty one. Sometimes when you have that freshman lacking experience, it takes that experienced player to pull her along. They worked together really well today and played without mistakes.”
Next up is their biggest challenge yet, a semifinal against second-seeded and unbeaten Stephanie Chen-Schmidt and Sandy Xie of Millburn. That takes place Sunday, 11 a.m. at Mercer County Park.
It’s a tall order, but the resourceful Vikings already have beaten three seeded tandems in this tournament.
“To come this far is pretty amazing,” Bali said.
South Brunswick was not the only unseeded GMC doubles pair to make a run to the quarterfinals. J.P. Stevens’ Michelle Tsung and Kristine Liu took on Millburn Saturday but fell 6-1, 6-2.
“We didn’t expect to get this far,” said Liu, a senior. “We thought we could get killed in the earlier rounds, but we went through tiebreakers to get here. It took a lot of hard work on our part.”
Added Tsung, a junior, “It was fun playing against different teams from around the state. I did not think we would get to this point.”
In the singles quarterfinals, Linden junior Joanna Zaleski posted a 6-2, 6-3 triumph over Haddonfield’s Victoria Martinez.
“I didn’t feel well today but I managed to pull it out,” said Zaleski, who on Thursday dropped her first match of the season, to Millburn’s Stephanie Schrage.
Zaleski will face fourth-seeded Christina Rosca of Princeton in Sunday’s semis at Mercer County Park. She is looking to return to the final, where she lost as a freshman in 2011 before sitting out her sophomore season.
“It’s fun to be back,” Zaleski said. “I missed it.”