Hailey Bowlin glanced at the sizeable crowd that was watching her No. 6 singles match Monday afternoon at Baumgardner Park in Blue Springs.
The Grain Valley senior had no idea that whoever won her match against the Wildcats would decide the tight non-conference contest as coach Randy Draper’s Eagles had won the No. 4 and No. 5 singles matches to knot the score at 4-all.
The Eagles had trailed 4-2 following two Blue Springs doubles wins and Bentley Walters and Allie Brown’s victories at No. 1 and 2 singles.
A Wildcats singles win at Nos. 4, 5 or 6 would have made coach Jennifer Kramer’s team a winner, but the Eagles didn’t allow that to happen.
The Eagles’ Maddie Shields had won 8-2 at No. 3 singles and Shields and Chelsea Gorden won 8-3 at No. 3 doubles, setting the stage for the dramatic victory as Gorden won 8-3 at No. 4 singles and Alice Lin won 8-2 at No. 5.
The Eagles claimed a dramatic 5-4 win in the 3-plus hour marathon match.
And what made the come-from-behind victory even more special is that it came without No. 1 singles standout Alyssa Owens, who tripped roller skating last Friday and had six stitches in her lower lip.
“When I play, I try to keep this straight face so my opponent doesn’t know if I am happy or sad or excited or nervous,” explained the cool, calm and collected Bowlin, who played like she was accustomed to the spotlight. “And tonight, I kind of looked around and there were no other singles matches and everyone from both teams and all the fans were watching us play our match. I never thought about me winning or losing would decide everything, but it was pretty cool having everyone watch our match.
“I mean, that doesn’t happen during many No. 6 singles matches.”
Playing with a style that even deceived her coaches, Bowlin maintained a slim lead throughout the match against Molly Hocker and claimed an 8-5 win.
“I was watching her,” Eagles assistant coach Blake Thorne said, “and I kept wondering to myself if she had any idea that her match would determine who would win this afternoon.”
As it turned out, she didn’t.
“That’s fine with me,” quipped a grinning Draper, as his team improved to 8-1. “She looked relaxed, which was great, because none of the rest of us were.”
After she won and shook hands at the net with Hocker, Bowlin was mobbed by her teammates.
“They told me we won, and that’s the first time I knew my match decided who won, and that was pretty cool,” Bowlin said. “What’s really cool is that we won the match without Alyssa. She means so much to the team, and to everyone on the team.”
Owens watched from the stands and stood and cheered with the fans as Bowlin was mobbed by the Eagles.
“I was at a birthday party, roller skating, and fell, and this is what happened,” Owens said, pointing to her puffy and bruised lower lip that was stitched from one side to the other. “I am so proud of Hailey and all the girls. I wanted to be out there so bad, but they were able to take care of business without me.”
The Wildcats won handily at No. 1 singles as Walters claimed an 8-2 win, and at No. 1 doubles as Walters teamed with birthday girl Malina McGaw (who turned 16 Monday) for an 8-0 victory.
Brown won 8-0 at No. 2 singles and Brown and Hocker won 8-4 at No. 2 doubles.
“Well, I hope we play much better tomorrow against Blue Springs South,” Kramer said. “This is one of those tough losses that you hope provides some learning moments for your team.
“We played well today, but the Eagles came back and found a way to win, and you have to give them a lot of credit. But we need to learn from our mistakes and come back strong tomorrow against Blue Springs South.”