FAIRMONT - The No. 5-seeded St. James Saints outlasted the No. 4-seeded Fairmont Cardinals in a pair of three-set slugfests to capture a 5-2 Section 2A team tennis quarterfinal meet on Tuesday at the Cardinal Courts.
St. James (12-7) advances to face No. 1-seeded Mound Westonka in the sectional team semifinals at noon today at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. The White Hawks received a first-round bye.
"We've seen a lot of improvement throughout our entire program this season. We experienced a bit of a setback today, but we'll bounce back and continue to build (for the future)," said Fairmont head coach Eric Johnson, whose lineup ended the team portion of the campaign with a 5-9 record.
APPROACHING THE NET — Fairmont second singles player Sterlin Johnson approaches the net to connect on a forehand return during Section 2A Team Meet quarterfinal tennis action on Tuesday at the Cardinal Courts in Fairmont. No. 5-seeded St. James rallied to defeat No. 4-seeded Fairmont, 5-2. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Ahead 3-2 in the sectional team showdown, Saints' junior left-hander John Foss reversed his 6-3 first-set loss to the Cardinals' Manuel Martinez during the second segment to force a decisive third set at No. 1 singles.
The vastly-improved Foss utilized precision cross-court angles to register a pivotal service break at 5-2, but Martinez displayed his mettle by reeling off back-to-back game wins to narrow his third-set gap to 5-4.
Foss built a 40-15 edge in Game 10, but as throughout the entire match, Martinez refused to exit without knotting the score at 40-all and two more deuces afterward. Foss' steady play, however, prevailed in the end via a 6-4 third-set victory.
"John (Foss) helps with our summer (tennis) program, and has really committed himself to this sport," said St. James mentor Les Zellmann. "You have to give Manuel credit for the way he played hard to the very end. It was impressive how he battled back from down 2-5 in the third set and later, when he fought back to deuce after being behind 15-40 in the final game."
The Saints' Will Runge and Connor Engel closed out the dual meet by capping a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 comeback victory over Henrique Marquez and Carter Klanderud during No. 1 doubles action.
Ironically, the pair of South Central Conference tennis lineups split the first four team points, with Fairmont netting a pair of wins in the singles bracket and St. James pocketing two doubles decisions.
St. James' Cole Skow and Colin Hoppe captured the sectional meet's initial point by downing Ryan Busche and Mitch Anderton at second doubles, 6-2, 6-1, before Fairmont's Austin Becker evened the team score via a 6-3, 6-1 win over Brandon Hjelmer at fourth singles.
Aaron Plyum and Cameron Giese then claimed the Saints' second point by serving a 6-3, 6-3 loss to Jake Kallenbach and Tony Joseph at third doubles before the Cardinals' Tyler Head tied the team ledger at 2-all by posting a 6-3, 6-3 third singles win over Sandin Skow.
Despite an exchange of long hard-hitting rallies, Connor Olson outdueled Sterlin Johnson at second singles, 7-5, 6-2, to swing a 3-2 team lead to St. James.
Fairmont plays in the Section 2A Individual Meet at noon Thursday at Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter.