The battle for FCIAC girls tennis supremacy could not have been any closer.
The entire match, pitting conference power Darien against undefeated Fairfield Ludlowe, hinged on a single tie-breaker in the No. 3 doubles match. And in the end, the visiting Wave squashed the Falcons' aspirations of an unbeaten season with a 4-3 victory Monday afternoon in Fairfield.
With the win, Darien (15-1) earned the No. 1 seed heading into the FCIAC playoffs that begin Wednesday, while Fairfield Ludlowe (15-1) dropped to the second seed and will play host to No. 7 Ridgefield (11-5) at 4 p.m. in a quarterfinal.
"It couldn't get any closer," said Darien coach Davin Gebauer. "Ludlowe's a great team, and we just got the lucky bounces today. We will probably play them again at some point, and it could be a totally different result."
The Blue Wave swept all three doubles matches, while Ludlowe, which won the FCIAC title in 2013, took three of the four singles matchups.
"Some days, it's your day and some days it's not," said Falcons coach John Reisert. "Today was Kateri's day, and every other day has been Lindsey's. (Lindsey) is still brimming with confidence and looking forward to bigger matches down the road."
In the No. 2 and No. 3 singles matches, Ludlowe prevailed against a pair of valiant efforts from the Wave. Cami Adajian got past Mia Dursht, 7-5, 6-3, and Falcons co-captain Daria Efimov outlasted Pia Teschner 6-4, 6-3. In the No. 4 singles contest, Darien's Katie Lashendock was blanked by Kyra Adajian, 6-0, 6-0.
The high drama of the day came at the end with the team score tied at 3-3 and one remaining match in progress, No. 3 doubles. Ludlowe's Lexi Brown and Julia Chueng faced the Wave tandem of Allegra Molkethin and Susie Alptekin. The Falcons' duo fell behind in the first set 3-0, before claiming a break point and storming back. Brown and Cheung ultimately fell 6-4 in the opening frame, but easily took the middle set, 6-1. With a large crowd of spectators cheering on both sides, neither side managed to gain the upper hand. The score see-sawed to the very end when a final tie-breaker swayed in Darien's favor, 8-6.
"I couldn't have been prouder of the effort (Brown and Cheung) put out there," Reisert said. "If they didn't handle pressure well, they would have lost that first set 6-1. Across the board, I was proud of our team."
The No. 2 doubles also went to a third set tie-breaker, as Darien's Ann Barsati and Catherine Hatfield topped Sara Jennings and Ana Wyckoff, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6. Wave co-captains Libby Feingold and Erika Gill claimed the the No. 1 doubles match, topping Chelsea Keane and Lauren Hilliker, 6-2, 6-3.
Asked about earning the top seed in the FCIAC, Feingold said, "It is an awesome feeling. We haven't done this well in the regular season in years so that raises our hopes high. Ludlowe is a great team and a deep team. We respect them completely."
Dave Crandall is a freelance reporter