The wind was howling, the sky was spitting rain and Olivia Sharpton was down 6-9 facing match point in Tuesday's singles match against Guntersville.
Things were not looking good for Cullman's No. 3 girls player.
That was before Sharpton took matters into her own hands, fighting off three more match points and winning five straight games to complete a gutsy 11-9 comeback and help the Lady Bearcats secure a 9-0 team victory.
Cullman coach Nathan Bates waited until Sharpton was nearly on the ropes to provide his player with what turned out to be a timely piece of motivation.
“It was 5-8, and I said, 'Hey, it's all about guts. Are you willing to stay out there and fight it out? If you are, you're going to win this match,'” he recalled. “She only dropped one more game after that, kept fighting and went on to win it.”
Only once Sharpton had stormed back to take a 10-9 lead did she allow herself to let loose and have a bit of fun in between games. She tried to keep the most serious of faces as she walked toward Bates but lost it halfway there, bursting out in a big bright smile that the coach said was “just the sweetest thing.”
One game later, the two were left to celebrate Sharpton's triumphant comeback.
“On a night like tonight, where it was just the worst of conditions and you're down 6-9, so many people would've just packed it in,” Bates said. “But that's not her. She gutted it out.”
All of Sharpton’s teammates were victorious in their matches as well, though none were quite as dramatic. Hannah Cornelius returned to her winning ways at No. 1 with a 10-2 decision, while McKenzie Bussman grinded out a 10-6 win at No. 2.
Bailey Baker (10-5), Anna Trevarthen (10-4) and Makenna Smith (10-2) took care of business at the fourth, fifth and sixth spots, and Kate Hood dominated an exhibition match by an 8-1 final.
Led by Cornelius’ and Bussman’s 10-2 rout in the No. 1 post, Cullman was spotless in doubles play, too. Baker and Sharpton pulled out a 10-7 victory at No. 2, while Makenna Smith and Mary Claire Smith capped off a flawless day for the Bearcats with a 10-3 result at No. 3.
Trevarthen and Hood easily won an exhibition match 10-1.
Cullman’s boys also topped Guntersville on Tuesday, taking eight of nine matches. No. 5 Matt Davis didn’t drop a single game, while No. 4 Ryan Hunt only dropped one and No. 2 Baylor Adams, three.
No. 1 Clint Watson and No. 6 Luke Bowden had to battle for their wins. Watson came out on top 8-6, as did Bowden 9-8. Jacob Lambert and Parker Adams both bested their Guntersville opponents in exhibition play.
Watson and Adams combined for a 9-7 victory in No. 1 doubles, while Jacob Davis and Bowden teamed up for an 8-4 result at No. 2. Hunt and Matt Davis finished the night with an 8-2 win at No. 3.
The Bearcat girls improved to 5-1, while the boys improved to 4-1. Both squads lost to Class 6A Huntsville on Monday.
Cullman’s boys and girls will compete in the Dothan Shootout Tournament on Friday and Saturday.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org