Naugy rallies past Hearts

Greyhounds cap undefeated regular season

NAUGATUCK— The Naugatuck Valley League girls tennis regular season couldn’t have ended in a more dramatic, exciting or historic fashion Thursday at Naugatuck High School.

The Greyhounds rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win, 4-3, over Sacred Heart in a spell-binding, nerve-racking tiebreaker with an undefeated season on the line for both teams.

With the Greyhounds battling back to tie the match, 3-3, the outcome hinged on the No. 2 doubles match. Ultimately, Naugy’s duo of Brielle Behuniak and Hailey Russell held service three times with the match on the line to tie and force a tiebreaker. Then they staved off two match points against Sacred Heart’s Katie Brown and Katie Uszakiewicz in the tiebreaker to win, 8-8 (10-8).

“There was definitely a lot of pressure, and it was really nerve-racking, but me and Brielle just kept pushing through and not getting too worked up about mistakes,” Russell said. “We just kept telling each other that we could do it, and we didn’t give up or get mad if we missed shots.”

Russell and Behuniak trailed by scores of 5-4, 7-6 and 8-7, but battled back to tie the match each time to force the tiebreaker. Then in the tiebreaker, Brown and Uszakiewicz led by scores of 6-5 and 7-6 and needed just one point to win, but couldn’t get it.

“They didn’t know enough to quit,” Naugatuck coach Jose Sendra said. “Isn’t that crazy? They just didn’t know enough to quit. I love it. I’m so proud of them. They are such competitors. Even when they were down, I could hear them telling each other, ‘We’ve got this.’ They kept pushing. That was an amazing match by both sides. They just kept rallying and rallying and rallying. That could have gone either way.”

Early in the overall team match, Sacred Heart’s No. 1 singles player Colleen Flanagan beat Kelly Carr, 8-6, the Hearts’ No. 3 singles player Ava Longo beat Gina Greco, 8-3, and the visitor’s No. 1 singles team of Alexa Gallino and Nhi Nguyen beat Sabrah Cegielski and Catarino Rego, 8-1, to give the Hearts a 3-1 lead. The only win for Naugy in the early going came from No. 2 singles as Patricia Escaleira won, 9-7, in a highly entertaining and very competitive match against Nellie Drewry.

But down 3-1, Naugy rallied. First the No. 3 doubles team of Cristina Rego and Natalie Paradise won, 8-4, over Hannah Dombroski and Najma Braddock. Then the Greyhounds’ No. 4 singles player, Kelly Redmond, rallied from an early deficit to win, 8-8 (7-3) in a tiebreaker.

Parents, fans, coaches and players then all moved to watch the epic battle between the No. 2 doubles teams.

“I give everyone credit for playing well under tons of pressure,” Sacred Heart coach Justin Michaud said. “That last match is always the worst pressure when you have drawn up to that point and everyone is watching. You could hear the crowd. It sounded like a basketball game. It gets crazy and intense.”

Despite the loss, Michaud told his team he was incredibly proud.

“We have never won 15 matches in a row in girls tennis. We finished 15-1, which is still the best record ever at the school so they should be very proud.”

Of course, Naugy (15-0) finishes with regular-season bragging rights and with its best record ever.

“I think this year we came together more as a family and a team,” Behuniak said. “We all had each other’s backs and we all supported each other in everything. I think finishing undefeated gives us confidence going into NVLs. We played four matches this week so we were definitely all tired, but we knew we had it in us just to get through that one more match and finish undefeated.”