Platte County went from a tenuous advantage in Tuesday’s Class 2 District 8 semifinal to reflecting on a successful season cut short in a matter of minutes.
St. Pius X won took the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 singles matches in extremely quick succession at Platte County High School to win the dual 5-3 with play called before the No. 5 match finished with the team result decided. The Pirates finished the season at 12-4, and without an individual qualifier for the Class 2 Missouri State Tennis Championships, there were six seniors who played their final matches.
“We’re probably going to look back on this and think, oh man, we were pretty close — closer than a district semifinal loss might feel,” Platte County coach Zach Keith said. “Not all district semifinal losses are created equal.”
Platte County entered as the second seed in Class 2 District 8 and took a 2-1 lead after doubles with seniors Molly McBratney and Maria Molinari taking an 8-5 win at No. 1 and seniors Rayna Garcia and Bri White holding on for an 8-6 win at No. 3.
St. Pius X, the third seed and defending district champion, went into singles needing to win more than half to keep its season alive.
“I wasn’t necessarily feeling confident in the sense I felt like we were going to win at that point,” Keith said. “I was proud of the wya they came out and took it to (St. Pius X). All year long, we’ve been kind of passive doubles team. Even the doubles match we lost, we came out and played like winners.”
Platte County junior Ellie Fish increased Platte County’s lead to a 3-1 with a straight-sets 6-4, 6-4 win over Nicole Strahm at No. 6. The Pirates were just two wins away from a rematch with No. 1 seed Grain Valley, which won a dual between the two teams in the regular season finale a week earlier (7-2).
Instead, Platte County’s top four of seniors — McBratney (No. 1), Molinari (No. 2), Sophie Curtis (No. 3) and Rayna Garcia (No. 4) — all lost in straight sets by decisive scores. Taylor Mayne, a senior at No. 5, had dropped the first set and trailed in the second, as well.
Platte County entered the season with high expectations after a successful 2020 that ended with a 5-4 Class 2 District 8 semifinal loss to Kearney. McBratney also qualified for state in singles — the first in program history for the Pirates to achieve the feat — as an individual district champion. She returned to lead an experienced lineup that did lose pieces with senior Aleah Dixon shelved due to offseason knee surgery and senior Paige Chase, who finished third in districts as a junior, opting not to play.
Despite the unplanned lineup shuffles, Platte County didn’t miss much, if any, of a beat.
Keith developed a lineup with Fish the only non-senior to receive regular playing time this season for Platte County. White played No. 3 doubles all year but rarely competed in singles with Fish taking the No. 6 spot. The Pirates made it work, capturing the eighth Suburban Conference Blue Division title in program history and the since 2017.
However, Platte County suffered the loss to Grain Valley to close the regular season to end up with the No. 2 seed, and McBratney suffered an upset loss in the singles quarterfinals of last week’s Class 2 District 8 individual tournament. Molinari went on to place third while Curtis and Mayne lost in the doubles semifinals and wound up fourth.
Many of Platte County’s seniors started their careers way down the depth chart before working their way into positions to achieve success. The Pirates went from three wins in 2019 to 7-10 a year ago to conference champion this fall.
“One thing I told the girls after the dual is that one day I hope they can look back and be proud of how hard they worked to reach this point,” Keith said, “because I’ve coached teams in the past that have had talent or a lot of athletes, but they don’t necessarily work hard at tennis. These girls, literally every single one of them, spent a lot of time practicing to get to this point. It’s fun for me to see them rewarded with such a successful season.”
The disappointing individual tournament results left the state playoffs as the only way for Platte County to continue its season, but Class 2 District 8 proved to be one of the deepest and most competitive brackets in the state. The championship between Grain Valley (11-2) and St. Pius X (14-1) was postponed due to rain on Wednesday and scheduled to be played Friday afternoon.
“We’re just in a tough district,” Keith said. “Obviously, you play the teams that are close to you. We knew it was going to be a tough district. It’s not like that caught us off guard. We were expecting a battle with whoever we ended up matching up with, and we certainly got that.”
Platte County reached the semifinal with a 5-0 win over Winnetonka in Monday’s first round match. The Blue Division opponents met in the regular season, too, with the Pirates winning that matchup 9-0.