Nothing but smiles for Baba sisters after winning state title

Prairie doubles team captures 3A state championship

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant sports editor

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A 14-year-old freshman on the line, ready to serve out the match to win a state championship.

It seems like a perfect time for nerves, stress or butterflies, right? Not for Prairie's Akari Baba.

"I was totally smiling," Baba said. "I don't want to sound cocky, but when I'm serving, I'm really confident. I believe in my serve a lot. I was just thinking 'I totally got this.' "

Five points later, she was right as she and her senior sister Shiori captured the Class 3A girls doubles state championship with a 2-6, 6-1, 7-5 victory over Sophia Gage and Lydia Venditti of Mercer Island.

"It's definitely overwhelming," Shiori said. "My emotions just came out. We had all our fans watching. It was a great feeling. A feeling that I'll never forget. Best weekend ever in my lifetime."

Playing on outdoors courts in 30 mph winds in Kennewick, the Baba sisters posted three straight-set wins to reach the doubles finals.

But when they moved inside for the championship match, they struggled to adjust, dropping the first set 6-2 and then the first game of the second set.

"And they were playing for a state title, so I'm sure nerves were part of it, too," Prairie coach Chris Linquist said. "But after dropping that first game in the second set, they just put the accelerator down and won six games in a row."

The drama didn't end there as Gage and Venditti built a 5-3 lead in the final set and were serving for the title.

"At that point, I remember telling their parents, 'OK, now we get to see what they're made of,' " Linquist said. "And then they showed us."

Communicating in English and Japanese, the sisters kept each other fired up as they broke serve, held and then broke again to give Akari the chance to serve out the match.

The victory gave the sisters a memorable finish to their lone season of playing high school tennis together.

"I was telling my mom that it was perfect that we were three years apart in age," Akari said. "If we were four years apart, this would have never happened. And if we were two years apart, this wouldn't be as special. We had one shot at this, and we won district, bi-district and now state. It's super exciting."

And it left both sisters smiling.

3A girls singles

Camas freshman Esther Kwon battled back from a first-round loss to place eighth in single, falling to Cello Lockwood of Holy Names 6-3, 6-3 in the consolation final.

2A girls tournament

Hockinson's Michelle Chiou won back-to-back matches in the consolation bracket Saturday to capture fourth place with a straight-set win over Stephanie Her of Pullman.