ST. PETER - The Fairmont Cardinals' doubles tandem of Sterlin Johnson and Manuel Martinez were just one set away from reaching the Section 2A championship match on Friday at Gibbs Tennis Center at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
After a pair of wins in Day 1 action on Thursday, Johnson and Martinez were set to face St. Peter's Matt Huber and Zeke Haugen in the Section 2A semifinals.
"I thought that each of our players did a great job that first day and really brought everything they had," said Fairmont head coach Eric Johnson. "As for Manuel and Sterlin, they are playing some of their best tennis of the season right now, which is great."
WORKING IN TANDEM — Fairmont’s Sterlin Johnson (right) hits a forehand return during doubles action in the Section 2A Individual tennis tournament at the Gibbs Tennis Center on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter. Doubles partner Manuel Martinez watches the action. Johnson and Martinez went on to capture fourth place in the sectional. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)
The Cardinals battled against the Saints, trading games back and forth throughout the opening set.
With Fairmont leading 4-3, and with Huber serving, the Saints were able to hold their service game.
Tied at 4-4, Huber and Haugen took control of the net, breaking Martinez's serve to take the 5-4 lead.
Haugen sent a sizzling shot down the line in the final point of the game to take their first lead of the match.
Haugen then responded to hold his serve, splitting the Cardinal doubles team and ripping a pair of winners down the middle for the set win at 6-4.
"I thought that there were times in the first match for us today that Sterling looked like the best player out there, and then there were other points where Manuel did," said Eric Johnson. "They each bailed each other out at different points, but we just weren't able to get the points we needed."
Down a set and trailing 4-1 in the second set, the Cardinals surged back to get within one.
Martinez used his powerful forehand to force Huber and Haugen to lob, allowing Johnson to put away the overhead more than once on their comeback trail.
After losing their serves the first time through, Johnson and Martinez both won their service games and broke Huber to even the set at 4-4.
Johnson then smacked four hard serves at the Saints, with the Cardinals holding on for a long-rally win to grab a 5-4 lead.
Trailing 30-0 in the game, Huber sent his return to Martinez, who fired a cross-court shot to pull Huber out wide.
This time Haugen was prepared after Johnson pounced on Huber's forehand, Haugen moved into take the volley. That set up a battle at the net, with each player getting a chance to end the game, but it was a Martinez lob that forced Haugen to race back to the baseline and his shot fell into the net.
The Saints didn't go down quietly, tying the set at 5-5 and later took a 6-5 lead, before the Cardinals tied it again at 6-6.
The battle continued into the tiebreaker, with ties at 7, 8 and 9 before the Cardinals captured the final two points for the 7-6 (11-9) victory.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, their second-set rally wouldn't be enough, and the Saints came back to win the third set 6-4 to reach the championship match.
"In this section, there are some great doubles teams," said Eric Johnson. "Only 16 teams get into the state tournament, but I think after watching us play that match today that we could be in that group, too."
Huber and Haugen squared off against St. James' John Foss and Connor Olson in the championship, coming back from a one-set deficit to win the Section 2A title, 1-6, 7-6, 7-6.
Martinez and Johnson then faced another St. Peter tandem - Alex Willson and Ben Gault - in the third-place match in the hopes of netting a true-second challenge to make it to state.
This time, Fairmont, coming off its strong finish in the long semifinal match, won the opening set 6-3.
Both Cardinals held their serves, giving Willson and Gault problems through the early portion of the set.
The Saints started adjusting to the Cardinal servers' speed, but it was too little, too late in the opening set.
Once the duo got back in the swing of things, unforced errors started popping up for the Cardinals, allowing the Saints to take a 6-4 second-set win.
"Both of our guys played well today at moments, but in that second match we needed them to be more consistent," said Eric Johnson.
The Saints' rallied in the third set, taking control of the net and forced the Cardinals to attempt lobbing, with those sailing out to give St. Peter the advantage.
Willson and Gault grabbed a decisive lead after breaking Johnson to make it 5-2. The Cardinals had a spark though, returning the favor and breaking Gault in the next game to make it 5-3.
Martinez ripped a forehand down the line to beat the Saints to take the win and cut the deficit to two games.
Unfortunately for Fairmont, the Saints fired strong return after strong return in the next game, pulling the Cardinals off the court and taking the final set 6-3.
In the singles bracket, Mound Westonka's No. 2-seed Arend Turner outlasted his teammate and No. 1-seeded Luke Moorhead 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 for the Section 2A singles title.
Moorhead then turned around and beat Holy Family Catholic's Jacob Sandefur 6-0, 6-0 in the true-second challenge match.
Sandefur advanced to face Moorhead in the true-second match with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Fire teammate Robbie Bremer in the third-place match.
2014 Section 2A
At GAC in St. Peter
Singles: Championship: Arend Turner (Mound Westonka) def. Luke Moorhead (Mound Westonka), 6-1, 4-6, 6-2. Third Place: Jacob Sandefur (Holy Family Catholic) def. Robbie Bremer (Holy Family Catholic), 6-3, 6-0. True Second: Moorhead (MW) def. Sandefur (HFC), 6-0, 6-0.
Doubles: Championship: Matt Huber-Zeke Haugen (St. Peter) def. John Foss-Connor Olson (St. James), 1-6, 7-6, 7-6. Third Place: Alex Willson-Ben Gault (St. Peter) def. Manuel Martinez-Sterlin Johnson (Fairmont) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.