It was a title defense — just one that was on hold for a year.

The Commerce girls’ tennis team won its second-straight area/region championship with a 3-0 victory over Washington-Wilkes Tuesday (April 13) in the 8-A Public finals at Social Circle.

The Tigers won the 2019 area title, but no area champion was awarded in 2020 since the season never finished due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Megan Suber, Commerce’s No. 1 singles player, said reclaiming the title after last year’s hiatus meant a lot.

“We didn’t really get a chance to prove ourselves, and I think this really gives us a chance to prove ourselves,” Suber said.

No. 3 singles player Lauren Lindsey closed out the win with a 6-0, 7-5 victory as Commerce beat Washington-Wilkes for the second time in five days (the teams played at Commerce on April 8).

Commerce had gotten off the court quickly at two positions with No. 2 singles player Kamden Cotton winning 6-2, 6-1 and the No. 2 doubles team of Joely Lord and Kaylee Martin winning 6-3, 6-4.

“I think that definitely added some momentum,” Lord said. “ … We kind of snuck off and cheered on Lauren, which helped a lot, but I think, yeah, I think it definitely gave us a lot of momentum.”

Martin, meanwhile, noted that her and Lord’s victory avenged a loss to Washington-Wilkes in doubles play last week.

“They beat us last week, and it was the first loss we’ve taken all season,” she said. “So, to comeback and beat them and be able to watch the rest of our team and Lauren — she played her freshman year and a little bit last year — for her to come out and help us win this tournament, it was amazing and it makes everything 10 times better.”

Commerce did not complete matches at two lines in the victory.

Suber dropped her first set at No. 1 singles, 6-1, but forced a third set with a 6-3 win in Set 2. She trailed the her final set 3-2 when the match was called.

No. 1 doubles players Anna Taylor and Carson Hobbs coasted to a 6-2 win in their first set and led the second set 5-3 when the match ended.

Commerce coach Charlie Smith said the team was determined to play better than it did during a 3-1 semifinals win over Lake Oconee Academy earlier in the day.

“They said coach, ‘We’re going to show you. We’re going to show you what we can do,’ and they did,” Smith said. “They came out on fire. Both doubles teams played well. All three singles played well.”

Smith was particularly happy for the team’s seniors.

“We’ve got some seniors on that team that have been putting in a lot of work,” Smith said. “And they deserve it. They didn’t just roll into this thing. They’ve been putting in the work … They learned a lot about themselves out here today. I already knew it about them, but they got to prove it to themselves what they could do.”

Commerce will take a No. 1 seed into the state tournament and will receive a first-round bye due to a lack of teams in Region 5-A Public, which Region 8 crosses over against. 

“Whoever it is (in Round 2), we’re excited to play,” Smith said. “We’ll get to host it … We’ll ride the ship as long as we can and just enjoy the small moments of the whole thing.”

BOYS FINISH AS RUNNERS-UP

The Commerce boys were a tough-luck runner-up at the Region 8-A Public tournament, falling 3-2 to Lake Oconee Academy Tuesday (April 14). An ankle injury to the Tigers’ Jonathan Orozco forced the No. 3 singles player to retire in the third set of a pivotal match with the Titans.

Orozco fell 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 0-3 to Lake Oconee Academy’s Garrett Payne, turning his ankle late in the second set after stepping on a loose tennis ball while chasing down a shot. Orozco is coming off ACL injuries in both knees.

“The whole team played great, Jonathan, specifically, his injury situations throughout the last two years, the whole time he was ‘Put me in, coach, put me in, coach. I can play.’ And he could. He was playing great. He had a great competitor who he played against, and they had a great match going.”

Smith said he wanted to give Orozco a chance to finish out the final set if he could, but decided after three games that it was in Orozco’s best interest to call the match.

“It’s always that we’ve got to put the student athlete’s safety first,” Smith said. “That’s what we did, so we called the match.”

The bulk of the attention of the finals match centered on Orozco and Payne as the other four matches ended relatively quickly. Hunter Nunn and Daniel Nash won 6-2, 6-2 at No. 1 doubles, while Bo Childers and Asher Baugh breezed to a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 2 doubles. Meanwhile, Lake Oconee Academy picked up straight-set wins at No. 1 and 2 singles.

But Orozco and Payne’s match — which included a second-set tiebreaker — lasted nearly two and a half hours.

“Those were two, really, really good, well-skilled No. 3 singles players,” Smith said. “It was a great, fun match to watch for everybody. It’s unfortunate that the injury got him, but also it’s a blessing that it wasn’t anything except for a rolled ankle. We can heal that pretty quickly.”

Commerce will be a No. 2 seed in the state tournament and will also receive a first-round bye due to a lack of teams in Region 5-A Public.

“Region runner-up — we’ll still go and try to make some noise in the state tournament,” Smith said.

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