Darlington School: Private Boarding School in Georgia Tigers take state by outlasting Mustangs
Darlington School: Private Boarding School in Rome, GA
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Tigers take state by outlasting Mustangs

May 12, 2024 | 447 views

To win a state championship, a team must be the last one standing. The Darlington Tigers took that figuratively and literally on Saturday.

Darlington outlasted Mount Vernon in a long, grueling Class A Division I State Championship Match at the Rome Tennis Center at Berry College Saturday afternoon highlighted by a clutch win in three sets by No. 2 singles player Murray Ellington for the decisive point in a 3-2 victory as the Tigers hoisted the championship trophy.

After Darlington earned wins at No. 3 singles and No. 1 doubles, and Mount Vernon matched them with wins at No. 1 singles and No. 2 doubles, the finals showdown all boiled down to the winner of the No. 2 singles match. After the Tigers' Ellington won a tiebreaker to take the first set 7-6, his Mustangs' opponent fought back and earned a win in the second set in the same exact fashion for a 7-6 advantage.

That set up a third set for all the marbles, and Ellington came through in fine fashion, surging to a 6-1 win to send Darlington into a championship celebration following the three-plus hour marathon match.

"It was just a question of stamina and what they had left in the tank, and Murray just played so well in that third set," said Darlington head coach Betina Fuentes. "He was able to overcome losing that second set, and find what he needed to really dominate that third set. It really shows his character and what kind of stamina he has.

"I'm just so proud of this team," added Fuentes, who is in her first year leading the program. "This state title is something we've had our eyes on since January, and every move we've made has been pointed toward trying to get better and get here to the finals to give ourselves a chance. For these boys to pull it off is just incredible. They are a true team that works hard and pulls for each other."

"It was just an incredible match from the first point to the last one," said Ellington. "The whole experience was incredible. I'm so proud of everyone that helped us do this. All our players and even all the people that came to support us today gave us so much energy. I knew my match was going to be a battle. After losing the second set, I knew I just had to come out and fight. To be able to play like that in the third set and last so long just means that all the work has paid off."

Darlington grabbed the early momentum in the match as its No. 1 doubles team of Nicolas Ntayagabiri and Felipe Selle wasted no time rolling to a win in two sets to make it 1-0.

Mount Vernon evened things up with a two-set win at No. 2 doubles, but not too much later, the Tigers went back ahead thanks to a hard-fought two-set win by John Courtnay at No. 3 singles.

Mount Vernon once again tied it up thanks to No. 1 singles player Liam O'Leary winning a second-set tiebreaker to defeat Darlington's Jan Luis Weers in two sets. It was Weers' first loss of the season.

That put the match in the hands of the No. 2 singles spot. Ellington battled all the way back from down 5-1 in the second set to go up 6-5 before eventually dropping the set 7-6 in a tiebreaker to force the do-or-die third in which the sophomore pulled away with the momentum.

"Shout out to my fitness coach Brian (Lovering)," said Ellington. "If it wasn't for him, I'm not sure I would've lasted in that match today. He has made me work hard, and that paid off today for sure. We lost to Mount Vernon last year in the playoffs when I was a freshman, so to come back as a sophomore and beat them in the state championship match is just amazing. This team and this season has been so special."

The Darlington boys' state championship victory follows up the Darlington girls winning the state title last year by also claiming a 3-2 victory over Mount Vernon.

The Tigers will lose two seniors off this year's team to graduation but will return a large portion of the core of the championship squad, which Fuentes said gives her a lot of optimism that the team can put together another special run in 2025.

"We've got a lot of younger players that have stepped up for this team. Our sophomores have really grown into leaders," said Fuentes. "Murray and John are definitely leaders. You can hear them on the court during matches all the time talking to their teammates and yelling to fire them up. They know what it takes to win, and even with the players we are losing that we will miss a lot, we will look forward to what we can do next year with that group."

Published in the Rome News-Tribune on May 12, 2024