E.A. Sports Today

Leaving their mark

Donoho tennis players take different roads to reach state respective girls singles title matches

Donoho seventh-grader Claire Hillman took down older, bigger opponents to reach the No. 2 singles title match. (Photo by Harrison Han)

By Brant Locklier
For East Alabama Sports Today

DECATUR – Diminutive Donoho seventh-grader Claire Hillman left a big impression on the AHSAA Class 1A-3A girls state tennis tournament Tuesday.

The young Falcon marched her way into the state championship match along with teammate Virginia Hutto in No. 2 and 3 singles.

Hillman’s trip left a wake behind her of disposed opponents sometimes twice her size and six years her senior. But her strategy was to outthink her opponents as she could not physically overpower them.

Her opponents would size her up in the pre-match warm up, with most of them giving her “the look” and thinking the match was not going to be hard at all.

Then the match would start and soon they realized she was hitting every shot back at them and hitting them deep on the baseline. Then rallies were long and they started to lose their patience. They could not hit winners from that deep on the baseline as Hillman has an uncanny knack of getting to the ball for a return.

Frustration soon followed as they began to make unforced errors and when they would rush the net Hillman would surprise them with a bullet passing shot. It culminated in a look of utter frustration and surprise when the match ended and they had lost.

Hillman took out Whitesburg Christian’s Lauren Posey 6-2, 6-2; Lauderdale County’s Brilee Barksdale 10-5 and then Montgomery Academy’s Martha Ernest in a classic 6-4, 2-6, 11-9 semifinal.

Ernest found herself quickly behind and puzzled as Hillman was off to quick start with blistering passing shots. She got out to a 5-2 start before Ernest began to figure things out a bit, but Hillman hung on for a 6-4 win in the first set.

The second set consisted of long rallies and Hillman began to hit high lobs to the back baseline in order to nullify Ernest’s power game. The games were very tight and Ernst became very frustrated with how long it took to win a point. She dug in and won the set to force a 10-point tiebreaker.
Hillman got down 3-0 and then reeled off five straight points to go up 5-3. Ernest then won six of the next seven points to go up 9-6 and it appeared that Hillman’s season would fall short of a state championship match.

“I just started to cry when it was 9-6, but I got hold of myself and just took it one point at a time and tried to do my best,” Hillman said. “I was just trying to slow her down with the high lobs and that took her away from the shots that she liked.”

She reeled off five straight points to shock Ernest and she smacked the game point into the net Hillman leaped into the air.

“What was I supposed to do,” a stunned and frustrated Ernest said. “I tried everything I could, but the ball just kept coming back and coming back. I only got off three good shots the whole match. I do not want to play her again.”

Hillman went on the state finals and in her third match in a row and just ran out of gas in losing to Bayside Academy’s Evelyn Prickett 6-3, 6-3.

Hutto, meanwhile, was making her second straight trip to the championship match. The sophomore drew a first-round bye before she defeating Houston Academy’s Sara Beth Ramsey 10-3 and Decatur Heritage’s Lida Orr 6-2, 6-1. She fell to Montgomery Academy’s Jenna Chandler in the finals 6-1, 6-2.

Hutto used a strong forehand and great court coverage to wear her opponents down.

“It was my second year in a row to get here; it felt really great to do that,” Hutto said. “I was especially proud of my teammate in doubles.”

She was referring to Emma Wiedmer. They defeated Whitesburg Christian in No. 1 doubles play 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 and then lost to Houston Academy 7-6, 7-6. Hillman and Marella Hudson finished in the top four in No. 2 doubles.

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