Ellie Hodgkin of Erskine Academy returns a shot during her No. 1 singles match against Inga Zimba of Waterville High School at Bates College in Lewiston on Tuesday. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slov

LEWISTON — Regina Harmon didn’t hit a good backhand all day. In fact, Erskine’s No. 2 singles player didn’t a backhand at all.

The ambidextrous senior rallied back from a three-game deficit early in her second set against Belen Ramiro-Gonzalez, securing a crucial second point and setting the stage for unbeaten Ellie Hodgkin to win in straight sets and send No. 3 Erskine into the state championship round Saturday with a 3-2 win over No. 2 Waterville in the Class B North regional final on Tuesday afternoon at the Bates College Wallach Tennis Center. The win marked the first regional tennis championship — either boys or girls — in program history.

Erskine (13-2) will face either Greely or Lincoln for the state title Saturday afternoon at Lewiston High School. Those two teams meet Thursday in the South region’s final.

“We wanted this from the start,” Hodgkin said. “We’ve wanted it from the beginning of the year. It was one of our goals.”

Hodgkin’s win over Waterville’s Inga Zimba at No. 1 singles was closer than the final 6-3, 6-3 scores indicated. With the other three courts vacant and the team scores knotted at two apiece, the second set took 42 minutes to complete as the Waterville (11-4) sophomore found her groundstroke game in that second set before Hodgkin put her away with pace and a relentless backhand.

“My serves were not great today, and she had some nice shots behind me,” Hodgkin said. “When I was running to the opposite end of the court, she’d hit it behind me again. I had to stop hitting it short to her.”

“This is as far as the boys or girls have gotten,” Erskine coach Ryan Nored said. “This is huge. This is absolutely huge. This has been our goal the whole year. We wanted that (championship) banner.”

Regina Harmon of Erskine Academy digs out a shot during her No. 2 singles match against Belen Ramiro-Gonzalez of Waterville at Bates College in Lewiston on Tuesday. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slov

But it was Harmon’s rally against Ramiro-Gonzalez that set the tone for Erskine, both for the day and the season.

The Eagles won the regular-season matchup against Waterville by an identical 3-2 score, but it wasn’t until a 3-2 win over Maranacook on May 15 that a regional championship began to seem realistic for the Eagles. Unlike on Tuesday, however, Harmon came up short at No. 2 singles — something she wouldn’t let happen against the Purple Panthers.

After breezing through a 6-1 victory in the opening set, Harmon found herself down 4-1 in the second set in one of the crucial matchups in the lineup. Though Erskine’s second doubles team of Morgain Kmen and Julia Barber rolled to a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Jasmine Liberty and Hannah Hubbard, the Eagle duo of Jane Blanchard and Kaytie Millay found itself down quickly in a third set it would soon drop (6-3, 4-6, 6-3) to Waterville’s Lauren Smith and Keira Gilman.

Harmon, who switches her racket from right hand to left hand — and vice versa — in order to hit forehands from both sides, decided she was not longer content to simply toss the ball back over the net in the hopes Ramiro-Gonzalez would bend.

“I guess it’s faster to just switch around and hit it,” Harmon said. “I thought our whole team had a chance to win, but I thought I had to win my match in order for us to win the match. I think I was in my head a little bit (in the second set), but I wanted to win it for my coach and my team. I got it back.”

Erskine Academy tennis coach Ryan Nored talks with his No. 1 doubles team, Jane Blanchard, center, and Kaytie Millay at Bates College in Lewiston on Tuesday. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slov

Harmon won the next four games in succession to earn a 6-1, 6-4 win to set the table for the senior Hodgkin, who hasn’t lost a match in team play this season.

“That’s what we thought coming in,” Nored said. “I was pretty comfortable with Regina playing, and if we could win one of the doubles or third singles, then you know putting it in Ellie’s hands we have a better shot than none.”

“I had pretty big one against (Madelyn Dwyer of Maranacook), who’s my good friend, but I feel like when it comes to that I don’t usually get the chance to win for my team because they’ve usually won it by the time I get on the court,” Hodgkin said. “But when it’s 2-2 and I have the chance to be the No. 1 for them, that’s when it really sets in. I just want to win it for them.”

Waterville’s Amna Sheikh outlasted Paige Leary 6-4, 6-3 in a match which took nearly two hours to complete.


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