WATERVILLE — After a blistering 8-0 start to the season, the Waterville girls tennis team stumbled a bit at the end of the season, splitting the final four matches of the year heading into the playoffs.

Any sign the Purple Panthers had their confidence shaken was absent Thursday, as No. 3 Waterville took all five matches to post a 5-0 Class B North quarterfinal win over No. 6 Erskine at Colby College. The Panthers advance to the regional semifinals for the third straight season, where they will face either No. 2 John Bapst or No. 10 Foxcroft on Saturday.

“Honestly, we played a couple of really tough teams (at the end of the season). Lincoln Academy is 12-0 and on top of B South, and Maranacook is 11-1 and second in C South. They’re both really tough,” Waterville coach Devin Lachapelle said. “The girls are pretty strong-willed, so they were ready to go today.”

Senior Samantha Saulter, fresh off an impressive run over the weekend in the state singles tournament where she reached the Round of 16, clinched the victory over the Eagles with a straight-set win over Ellie Hodgkins at No. 1 singles.

On an adjacent court, No. 2 singples player Maggie Brock showed why Waterville plays with grit.

Brock lost the first set of her match against Regina Harmon 6-4 just two days after being treated in a local emergency room for illness. The senior walked off the court for the break and lamented to an onlooker “I suck” before returning to play and winning the final two sets 6-2, 6-3 for an impresive victory.

“I was worried, because I hadn’t played in about a week. When I did, I really didn’t play that much,” Brock said, her voice clearly straining. “My mental game was better (after the first set).

“I had to realize that I don’t suck.”

“She was very sick, but I’m so proud of her,” Saulter added. “It’s so hot out, I didn’t want to go to a third set myself. But she did, and she won.”

Erskine first singles player Ellie Hodgkins hits a shot during a Class B North quarterfinal match against Waterville on Thursday at Colby College. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Other Waterville winners on the day included Clio Basakas and the doubles teams of Sofie Weston-Inga Zimba and Nadia Khan-Lauren Smith.

Though the Panthers took all of the matches, two of them went to three sets and two included tiebreakers to cap off sets.

Erskine coach Ryan Nored said Waterville was just too good.

“We made everything a match, so I can’t complain. It’s confidence,” Nored said. “We just needed confidence in our swing. We’d get tight and stop swinging, and good teams will pick on us for that.”

Confidence is something the Panthers have right now. And with a senior-laden lineup — all three singles players and a fourth senior in the doubles lineup — they have hopes of an appearance in the Class B state championship match.

“States is the goal. We’ll see,” Saulter said. “For me, personally, it’s all I’ve been thinking about. My goal has always been to go to states, so I worked in the offseason and I got the team to work in the offseason to try and improve our skills.”

Waterville first singles player Sammi Saulter returns a shot during a Class B North quarterfinal match against Erskine on Thursday at Colby College. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

“Our team is mostly composed of seniors, so for our last year, we really want to go far,” Brock said. “It really means a lot to us to go as far as we can.”

Lachapelle has noticed a character trait of his team is not to let itself be sidetracked by adversity. Missing out on the chance to play for the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference title after losing twice in their final four matches didn’t deter the Panthers from their postseason aspirations.

“They just don’t give up. We’ve had a few three-set wins this season. They just keep pushing and pushing,” Lachapelle said. “I told them during that last regular season loss to Maranacook, ‘Maybe we’re out of the KVAC championship, but I think it’s better we lose here. We can prepare.’ Once you get to the playoffs, it’s one and done and anything can happen. They really put in the effort and today they got the results.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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