Eagan 4, East Ridge 3
Many coaches tell their athletes to give everything they have for the game or match.
East Ridge head coach Brendan Fitzpatrick was able to see that saying come into full light on Monday as No. 3 seed East Ridge took on No. 2 seed Eagan at Simley High School in the team section semifinals.
The three doubles matches were won in a dominant fashion by the Raptors to take a 3-0 lead quickly. Then, the Wildcats needed to win all four singles matches to get into the section finals.
Eagan would have to fight for every point because the East Ridge players weren't going down easy.
"I'm extremely proud of them," Fitzpatrick said.
Adam Ryerse lost in No. 3 singles with a 6-1, 6-3 final score to give Eagan that first point. After a quick 6-1 victory for Eagan's Allen Gong in No. 2 singles, it looked to be another quick second set. Luke Fridinger had other plans.
Facing a 4-1 deficit in the second set, Fridinger came back to make it a 5-4 match in favor of Gong. Fridinger wasn't able to grab the victory as he lost 6-4 and Eagan took a second point.
The premiere matchup was at No. 1 singles as Eagan's Maxim Zagrebelny, ranked No. 1 in the state, and East Ridge's Caleb Fridinger, ranked No. 8 in the state, squared off for a match.
The lead went back-and-forth the majority of the game as the two players fought for every point. Zagrebelny won the first set in a close 6-4 contest and came back to win another close 6-3 second set to grab the third point for the Wildcats.
"I mean it's funny how you say that because you look at two singles and you look at Caleb and they're 1-4 in the second set," Fitzpatrick said. "You kind of think that in a snap of a finger that match will be over and then all of sudden you got 30 more minutes of tennis ... I'm so proud of these guys."
It was tied 3-3 for the two teams and it came down to the No. 4 singles match to determine a winner. East Ridge's Sujay Garlapati had all of the momentum after winning the tiebreaker in the first set to grab a 7-6 win over Eagan's Ben Schriner.
The two players fought in the second set, but Schriner took the 6-4 win and they went into a deciding third set.
After winning the first game in the third and leading in the second game, Garlapati fell to the ground holding both of his legs. The East Ridge sidelines went silent not knowing what just happened.
Fitzpatrick and assistant coach Jon Rydberg go over to Garlapati to check on him for a medical timeout. He was getting cramps on both of his legs and looked to be in a lot of pain.
Once he went to the bench, he started using a roller to massage his legs. Fitzpatrick asked him if he wanted to continue to play.
That wasn't a question for Garlapati. He picked up his racquet and made his way to his side of the court.
"To have him battle throughout that third set and going through what he did was all the great things: inspiring, incredible," Fitzpatrick said. "It shows a little bit of this team too with never giving up."
Right away, Garlapati won the second and third game to take a 3-0 lead. Then, the game went back-and-forth as Schriner came back to make it a 5-4 lead for Garlapati.
The East Ridge senior wasn't able to capture the victory and went back-and-forth again until the score was tied at 6-6. Another tiebreaker.
At this point, Garlapati wasn't able to serve correctly because he couldn't jump. He was trying to position his hits to keep Schriner off balanced. It worked throughout the match to get to the tiebreaker, but once it was tied at 7-7 the cramps looked to be in full effect.
Schriner won the next point two points to win the tiebreaker 9-7 and win the fourth and deciding point for Eagan. The Wildcats were heading to the section finals and East Ridge's team season had come to an end.
There was a lot of emotions for the Raptors players with how close this match was from top to bottom. Especially for the seniors as this was the last team match in their high school careers.
"These seniors have meant a lot to this program with their leadership and hard work every day," Fitzpatrick said. "They've left an impact on this team for the future."
Even though the team section tournament is over, the season hasn't come to an end yet. Many of the players for East Ridge will compete in the individual section tournament on Friday, May 24 and Wednesday, May 29. The individual portion will include singles and doubles tournaments for Section 3AA.
The top two singles and doubles pairings will advance to the state tournament this season. Fitzpatrick said the team will have one more practice tomorrow as a team to conclude the season and then the focus will go on the individuals and preparing them for the upcoming week.
"I know if I asked any of these guys, especially my individuals, what's probably the most fun," Fitzpatrick said. "Is it the team stuff or would you rather go out solo? I know all of those guys would say, 'I would take team success over anything.'"
Fitzpatrick is proud of the way the players grew this season and he can't wait to see what the future holds for the East Ridge program. Now, he needs to focus on the individuals and make sure they are prepared for the upcoming section tournament.