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By John A Wilson / Special to The Californian
BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
WASCO -- Flashing prodigious talent and wisdom beyond her 15 years, Garces freshman Anastasia Drulias won the Central Section girls tennis singles championship Saturday.
Drulias beat her good friend and hitting partner, Stockdale sophomore Arianna Tilbury, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in a see-saw match that wasn't decided until Drulias won the final two games.
"Whenever you talk about close matches in tennis," Drulias said, "my coaches always say, 'OK, third set, 4-all, that's when it comes down to the mental game.'"
Stockdale's top team of Cara Kemp and Emily Horrigan won the section doubles championship, beating No. 2 seed Olivia Luchini-Raquel Gonzales of Fresno-San Joaquin Memorial, 6-4, 6-4.
"It's really, really exciting," Horrigan said. "The girls we played were awesome, and I just think we played really great. We never thought of ourselves as favorites. We knew it would be tough."
Kemp and Horrigan seem to form a perfect team, with the spry Horrigan whisting groundstrokes from the baseline and the 6-foot-3 Kemp pounding errant shots at the net.
But the players, who hit it off immediately when Kemp transferred from Palos Verdes Peninsula for her senior year, say their doubles prowess goes beyond that.
"It's more of a chemistry thing," said Kemp, daughter of former NBA All-Star Shawn Kemp. "We always have a lot of fun together, and we've been really successful."
Kemp and Horrigan worked past Chelsey Ruiz-Zoe Vargas of Fresno-Bullard 6-4, 6-2 in the semifinals, and then took a fairly routine first set off of Luchini and Gonzales.
But the Memorial team won the first three games of the second set, forcing the Mustangs to call an impromptu pep talk.
"We knew we had to pick it up," Horrigan said. "We both wanted to win this tournament really bad. We told each other we needed to do it right here."
They won six of the next seven games to finish off the title run.
"We didn't get mad when things started going bad," Kemp said. "We pulled it together."
So did Drulias, who didn't turn 15 until Nov. 1. Eight days later, she was taking the first set off of top-seeded Tilbury in the fifth all-Kern County section singles final in the past six years.
Tilbury and Drulias had often played before, both in youth tournaments and at Seven Oaks Country Club. In the past, Tilbury usually had the advantage.
"She's not a nemesis, because she's one of my closest friends in tennis," Drulias said. "I spent a night at her house just a couple of months ago. But on the tennis court, we forget all that. She's not an enemy, but she is the person I always knew I would have to beat."
Tilbury had to grind through a two-and-a-half hour match in her Saturday morning semifinal before she finished off Electa Wright of Porterville-Monache, 6-0, 3-6, 6-4.
"I think I did get a little fatigued," Tilbury said, "but I managed to get an energy boost and push myself. I wanted it badly."
And Tilbury was able to turn things around after a bad first set, evening the match by winning the final five games of the second.
"I don't know what happened," Drulias said. "She turned it on, and I turned it off. I was at rock bottom, way down in the dumps."
Somehow, the precocious freshman -- who beat Clovis East's Mylah Ryland 7-5, 6-1 in the semifinals -- figured it out.
"I just tried to stay positive," she said. "I changed my mentality. I don't know that I changed anything I was doing on the court."
The third set stayed on serve, with each player breaking serve twice until Tilbury finally blinked, serving at 4-5. After falling behind 0-40, she saved two match points before Drulias finished her off.
"It was an honor to make it to the finals," Tilbury said. "I'm proud to play and give it what I had. Anastasia should be really happy."
She was. A large group of friends and extended family erupted outside the fence when she won, then spilled onto the court for photo after photo. Their freshman, who thought about not playing for the Rams to focus on individual tournaments, had won.
"It makes me feel so good," Drulias said. "At the beginning of the season, I didn't know how high school tennis was going to treat me. I wasn't sure I was going to like it, but I absolutely loved it. I love having that kind of support, like you're playing for all of them, not just yourself."