By Brian Paglia
Ola senior Cameron Winters battled in his singles match at the far end of the Mustang's tennis courts, away from the sizable contingency of Harris County fans that watched the doubles matches three courts away.
Other than a small group of Winters' family and friends, enough to fill a miniture bleacher section, the senior played in solitude. But the intermittent cacophony from Harris County fans diverted his attention.
"Their crowd was great," Winters said. "They were getting me out of focus."
Harris County and Ola appeared equal in talent and ability, and so the Mustangs' Class AAAA quarterfinals match was decided by less tangible factors. Like the crowd.
Harris County seemed to feed off the energy of its crowd that traveled from Hamilton. When Ola juniors Blake Joiner and Drew Chasteen lost their No. 2 doubles match, it clinched a 3-0 defeat to the Tigers and the Harris County contingency erupted in celebration.
"(Harris County) had the momentum," Ola coach Anthony Partello said. "Every time we got back in it, they seemed to make a run. We couldn't do enough to quiet their crowd."
The loss ended Ola's season in the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive year. Behind an experienced core of four seniors and several juniors, the Mustangs (18-3) felt the next step was imminent. Instead, they ran into a Harris County team that was better on this day.
"They were just a good team," Winters said. "They were good No. 1 through 7. I think we were pretty equal. It was just a bad day."
Winters lost in straight sets to Harris County junior James Smith, 6-3, 6-3. Ola senior Josh Brown met the same fate against Harris County's No. 1 singles player, senior John Todd Lee.
Brown battled allergies on an afternoon where the temperature reached into the mid-80s. During a pause in the second set, Brown remarked how he couldn't feel his face. He was offered water (which he took) and an energy drink (which he refused), but he couldn't find the energy to avoid losing 6-3, 6-4.
"We couldn't match their energy level," Partello said. "Brown's allergies were acting up, which only happened one other time this entire season. ... My hat's off to (Harris County)."
Ola had not lost a match through the first two rounds, sweeping its opponents with impressive ease.
The swiftness of Tuesday's match stunned the Mustangs, so they were not ready to take an inventory of the season's accomplishments -- the second consecutive Region 4-AAAA championship, the school record for victories in a season (18) and the second quarterfinals appearance in the program's fourth year of existence.
"Oh man, we had a great season," Winters said. "You can't ask for anything else, to have only four seniors and a junior class coming back next year to be strong again. Hopefully, we'll make it back here next year."