Taft varsity defeats last year's Valley champions by one point

It was more than eight years in the making, but a Taft varsity tennis team finally beat perpetual champions Bakersfield Christian, 5-4, on Tuesday.

Taft had never beaten the Eagles in boys’ or girls’ varsity tennis since the Bakersfield school opened. This is its ninth year. Including last year’s Valley finals girls’ loss, Taft was 0-33. BCHS, led by a string of Valley champion players, had won 16 of 16 Valley titles. That run ended in dramatic, nail-biting fashion Tuesday.

At No 1 singles, Ana Estrada hustled after every ball and put up a good fight but fell to the hard-hitting, coach’s daughter Tara Miller of BCHS, 6-3, 6-4. At No. 4 singles, Gloria Harley fell to BCHS’s Taylor Touchstone, 6-1, 6-0.

But it was all Taft after that in singles. At No. 2, junior Taylan Erro patiently outplayed senior Priti Devaprakash, with her all-or-nothing game. At No. 5 singles, Lupita Lozano played a consistent game to beat Liza Onead, 6-1, 6-3. The story was similar at No. 6 singles as senior Diana Medina calmly beat sophomore Anneka Tanas, 6-2, 6-1.

Spectators gravitated to the remaining singles match where No. 3 Yeraldin Barrera, a senior, struggled in the first set to freshman Abby Williams and lost 6-2. Barrera finally settled down and won the second set, 6-3, and the third set tiebreaker, 10-3. That gave Taft a 4-2 lead in the best-of-nine contest. The Wildcats just needed to win one of the three doubles matches.

At No. 1 doubles, Miller and Devaprakash beat Estrada and Erro, 7-5, 6-2. At No. 2 doubles, Touchstone and Onead beat Barrera and Harley, 6-4, 6-3. That sent every player and spectator to the No. 3 doubles match to see which team would win. Roxi Barboxa and JC Yarbrough beat Brittany Aguilar and Krysten Kaing, 6-3, in the first set, but then failed to convert two match points in the second set and lost, 7-6, (8-6). It all came down to which team could win 10 points first. Taft jumped out to a 5-0 lead and held on to win 10-4.

“This was a great victory for the girls and the Taft High tennis program,” coach Jim Carnal said. “I’ve known since these girls were sophomores that this year, their senior year, would be special. Now, for the first time ever, we are the front-runners to win league and valley.”

Taft has an experienced varsity team with six seniors and three juniors.

Taft easily won the JV match, 7-2. Haven Cook beat Annie Verhoef, 6-0, 6-1. Jenifer Rivera was ahead of Sarah Gardner, 6-4, when the Eagle went down with an injury and lost by forfeit. Gloria Okafor beat Caroline Stone, 6-1, 6-1. Maria Sanchez beat Monique Oja, 6-2, 6-0. At No. 5 singles, BCHS eked out a win when Lindsay Bega came from behind to beat Karina Amaya, 2-6, 6-4, 10-5. Liliana Noriega beat Kaley Lovio, 6-3, 6-0, giving Taft the 5-1 win after the singles round.

At No. 1 doubles, No. 7 Paige Gaylord and No. 8 Stephanie Torres came from behind to squeak past No. 1 Verhoef and No. 3 Stone, 2-6, 6-1, 10-8. Bakersfield Christian won No. 2 doubles when No. 4 Oja and No. 5 Bega beat No. 9 Destany Rocha and No. 10 Vicky Alvarez, 6-3, 6-2.

BCHS kept 12 players on its varsity team and did not have a seventh and eighth player on its JV team and had to forfeit No. 3 doubles.

The Taft teams improved to 2-0 overall; 1-0 in the South Sequoia League, while BCHS’s varsity fell to an uncharacteristic 0-3; 0-1 in SSL.

The JV team plays in the Lynott Cup today and Saturday. For the first time ever, tournament officials have placed Taft in the Division I bracket where it faces Liberty, Garces, Tehachapi and host Stockdale.

Next week, Taft’s varsity hosts Wasco at 4 p.m. Tuesday and JV is on the road.