DECATUR — As the sun was setting on the Class 5A State Tennis Tournament, only four players remained on the court with a chance to take home hardware.
On one side was Cullman's Bailey Baker and Olivia Sharpton. On the other, Briarwood Christian's Ellie Tarence and Kateleigh Calloway.
Tied at one set apiece, both sun-soaked duos were fully aware of the task at hand — win the third and final set and lay claim to the title in No. 2 doubles.
The first three games went to the Bearcats, the next three to the Lions. After such an even start, one team had to budge, and it quickly became apparent it wasn't going to be Baker and Sharpton. The Black and Gold girls proceeded to finish just as they began, reeling off three straight games to cap off a 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 victory.
When a Briarwood return sailed long on match point, Baker let out a celebratory yell before rushing to Sharpton and swallowing her in a hug.
“We worked really hard to get here all season, and I knew at sectionals when we won that we would do good at the (state) tournament. And we did wonderful,” an elated Baker said, once again embracing her soft-spoken partner in crime.
After such a back-and-forth affair, Nathan Bates could only compare the tourney's finale to a basketball game.
“They had their run, the other team had their run and we had the final run,” the Cullman coach said. “That's what we needed to do.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Baker's and Sharpton's road to the championship hit a speed bump during their semifinal match versus Hartselle. According to Sharpton, the pair struggled to play to their full potential early on, leading the Tigers to steal the first set by a 6-2 margin. Instead of panicking, however, Baker and Sharpton rose to the occasion, returning to form to win the second and third sets in convincing 6-3, 6-2 fashions.