For the sixth and final time on a hot, blustery Friday, Bloomington North senior Siggy Force took the court against Bloomington South.
Most of the memories from those matches haven't been entirely fond. Not at all like they will be about Friday when she and Bella Winkler provided the winning point in a 3-2 victory over the host Panthers in the girls' tennis sectional championship match.
"They really came out and went after it," North coach Barb Mills said. "They did not play tentative. They had a strategy that they've been working on and they've had mixed success this year. They showed what they could do tonight.
"I thought they both played great at the net. They did everything pretty well. The attitude and the fight was excellent."
Forcing a breakthrough
As a freshman, Force and Kunga Lhamo suffered a pair of three-set losses to the Panthers, who were sectional champs that year by a 3-2 margin.
In 2021, Force and Rena Cohen won in the regular season sweep of South, only to lose to Caitlin Heim and Chelsie Lindauer, in North's 3-2 sectional win.
And then there was that dramatic match on April 28-29 of this year. Force and Winkler, split the first two sets with Heim and Lindauer, with the team score tied at 2, only to see the third and deciding set postponed to the next day. South prevailed 4-6, 7-6, 7-5.
"After we lost, we had a lot of practices just dedicated to South," Force said. "So we went into it knowing what we had to do."
There was no failure to close out this time around, as the Cougar duo prevailed, 6-2, 6-3, pushing North (12-5) into the regional semifinals on Tuesday at South.
"I'd say obviously, we were nervous," Force said. "Because they were confident, they had more of an advantage. So I went into it like it's just another match and it did really help me."
"I was a lot looser and just happy to be out there doing my best," Winkler said.
Mills was happy with the way they dealt with all the elements, from the heat and wind to the pressure of beating a crosstown rival for a sectional title.
"I think we were more consistent," Force said. "We talked more, we had more confidence, we were looser. We had more energy."
Tough ending for North
North stormed out to early leads on four of the five courts and maintained that momentum in most cases as wins at Nos. 2 and 3 singles preceded the doubles win.
"It did set a tone, but there was no relaxing," Mills said. "Their players are tough. We had to finish."
But there was a bittersweet ending for the Cougars.
North's Ellie Bruce and Keira Murphy and South's Maddie Santner and Riley Walker were locked into a third set after the Cougar duo won 6-2 only to see Santner and Walker rally behind some better execution for a 6-3 win.
"They played a great second set," South coach Gretchen Wertzman said. "They really played big on the big points. I'm so proud of them. I know they really wanted to win that match and finish it. They lost to them in the regular season and wanted to come back and take that match."
North won the first game, but soon after, Bruce turned her ankle while going for a shot. She couldn't go on and the Cougars lost via injury default. Bruce later had to be helped off the court, her availability for regional up in the air.
South wins at top spots
South will still have a strong postseason presence, it will just be in the individual singles and doubles tournaments.
Briah O'Neal shook off some early frustrations, settled in and defeated Alex Shirley, 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1 singles with a howling wind out of the south.
"Mentally I had to dig deep and just keep the ball in play as much as I could and not spiral out of control and get down in the game," O'Neal said.
As she adjusted to the wind, she found her comfort level.
"I'd say by the second set or late first set it kind of shifted where I got my rhythm where I was able to hit through on both sides," O'Neal said. "I don't like to play timid at all. The fact I was able to dictate my points helped me a lot."
O'Neal and the doubles squad will wait to see if they'll have any matches next week before the Bedford North Lawrence Regional takes place on June 4.
"It's good for them," Wertzman said. "I'd much rather advance as a team, but it'll be a great experience for them and hopefully they can do some damage in the tournament."
Bailey's back for North
Getting Brooke Bailey back at No. 2 singles was a big lift for North. She missed the regular season meeting against South due to injury but returned soon after.
"I had a lot of energy this time around," Bailey said. "And we were all ready to cheer each other on and ready to be back as a team all healthy."
She rolled to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Hailey VanDeventer not long after Lucy Smith won at 3 singles, 6-1, 6-1, over Brooke Liao, who had to step up for Ava Rupp, who was unavailable.
"Brooke can play like a backboard," Mills said. "When you can have players who don't make mistakes, they're hard to beat."
Contact Jim Gordillo at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @JimGordillo.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: It's a win-win situation again for Siggy Force in sectional final