STONINGTON — Stonington High freshman Maddie Hamm nearly let the significance of the moment get to her Thursday.
Hamm, the ECC girls tennis tournament's top seed, had just failed to reach a return from No. 2 Samantha Cote of Fitch midway through the first set of the championship match. The point gave a game to Cote, but Hamm was still leading 4-3.
Hamm started crying and said, "I can't do this."
She served the next game and was still very emotional as she doubled-faulted and hit some balls into the net. It appeared she was falling apart as she fell behind 0-40.
But Hamm gathered herself, found her game and came back to take the game and a 5-3 lead with some sharp hitting.
From there she went on to earn the ECC title, 6-3, 6-3. It could have easily gone the other way without Hamm's resolve.
"It was the pressure," the 21-0 Hamm said of her emotional moment. "I get really stressed out; I really wanted to win. I worked really hard for it. I just tried to pull myself together and win that game and go from there."
The points and games played long between the two baseliners. The matched lasted an hour and 40 minutes.
"We counted maybe 50 hits on one point," Stonington coach George Crouse said. "Then [Hamm] started hitting and it worked out well.
"We had some talks about one point at a time, just keeping the ball in play. She's a rookie, really, and this is really a great amount of pressure. She accomplished a lot. She's such a tough competitor."
Hamm has won every match in straight sets this season, including twice against Cote during the regular season.
Hamm played a lot of lobs and deep balls to limit Cote's opportunities to use her powerful forehand.
"I was trying not to hit short balls so she couldn't hit good angles," Hamm said.
Hamm won the first two games of the second set, but Cote came back to tie it 2-2.
And when Hamm got behind 0-30 in the fifth game, it appeared things might get interesting. But Hamm came back to force a deuce game.
She then played a near-perfect drop shot that Cote was unable to get over the net, giving her a 3-2 lead.
The sixth game of the second set also went to deuce, but Hamm was able to prevail to take a comfortable 4-2 lead. Hamm also took the next game and was in control at 5-3.
"I just try to keep every ball in," Hamm said. "I am so happy and so relieved it's over. It's so stressful."
This is the fourth straight year a Stonington player has claimed the ECC singles title. Gabby Dellacono, who missed this season with an injury, won the previous three ECC crowns. She also won the state singles title last season.
Bears take doubles title, too
Stonington's Cassie Onorato and Amelia Caron, the tournament's No. 1 seed, defeated East Lyme's Emily Zhu and Liz Beaulieu for the doubles crown, 6-1, 6-2.
Onorato and Caron beat the East Lyme duo twice during the regular season, including one match that went three sets.
"They made good returns, got first serves in and basically controlled the match by hitting angle shots and being very aggressive at the net," Crouse said. "Amelia Caron must've had 10 putaways at the net in each set.
"Cassie was sharpshooting the corners, and Amelia was basically cleaning up at the net."
Crouse said it was their best match of the season.
Caron and Onorato are 20-0 this season. This is the fourth straight year Stonington has won the doubles championship.
Stonington is the No. 3 seed in the Class S state tournament and will host No. 14 Abbott Tech on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.