The Lady Mustangs had bolstered their lineup over the last three seasons, and it appeared Tuesday that they could be a team that could potentially give Walton trouble in certain matches.
But the Lady Raiders, who have lost just one match since 2003, stood firm. They beat Kennesaw Mountain 3-0 in the semifinal round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs and will play for their 11th championship in 12 years.
Walton (17-0) will face Alpharetta — which beat Hillgrove to prevent an all-Cobb final — on Saturday at Clayton County International Park.
Kennesaw Mountain (21-4) had to settle for being state semifinalists for the third straight year.
Going into Tuesday’s match, the teams matched up fairly well at No. 1 and No. 2 singles, and at No. 1 doubles. But Kennesaw Mountain was overmatched at the other two lines, putting the Lady Mustangs at a severe disadvantage.
Johanna Keeline beat Abby Seabaugh 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3 singles, and twins Emily and Grace Gaskins prevailed 6-0, 6-1 at No. 2 doubles over Ivy Evatt and Samantha Maddin.
From that point on, the pressure was squarely on Kennesaw Mountain, which had to win the three remaining matches to pull off the upset.
“Winning at No. 3 (singles) and No. 2 (doubles) took a lot of pressure off,” Walton coach Christy Lewis said.
At No. 1 singles, Walton newcomer Bella Kuse overpowered Kennesaw Mountain’s Samantha Armas after the first five games to win 6-2, 6-0 and clinch the final point.
Armas was in contention during the first set, but Kuse broke her serve a second time in a game that went to five deuces. Kuse’s second break-of-serve put her ahead 5-2 and she cruised from there.
In the second set, Kuse hardly missed a shot. She won points by using her serve to pull Armas off court, and she would rip groundstroke winners into the open court.
“Bella was on fire,” Lewis said. “In the second set, she wasn’t missing at all. She has powerful groundstrokes.”
The No. 2 singles match between Walton’s Suzanne Zenoni and Kennesaw Mountain’s Nicole Croxton got off to an unusual start, with both players breaking one another’s serve for the first seven games.
Zenoni finally held serve to go up 5-3 and went on to win the first set 6-3. She was up a break in the second set when the match was called.
Walton’s No. 1 doubles team of Jessica Cramer and Katie Riley, who have yet to give up a set in three years playing together, also won the first set 6-3 and were ahead in the second before the final point was clinched.
“They have more experience,” Kennesaw Mountain coach Connie Bailey said of Walton. “My kids drill like they do, but they’re just more experienced, and coach (Lewis) said her No. 1 played out of her mind.
“We’re upset, but we hope we can learn from this for next year.”