Short-handed and playing its first match in awhile Tuesday, the St. Joseph girls tennis team scored a convincing win and moved into the CIF Central Section Division 2 semifinals.

The second-seeded Knights (15-2) defeated a solid No. 10 Visalia El Diamante squad (17-8) 6-3 at the Santa Maria Country Club. The Knights received a first-round bye. The last time before Tuesday that they played a match was Oct. 21.

El Diamante beat No. 7 Morro Bay 7-2 in the first round.

The Knights won five of the six singles matches Tuesday. The Miners took two of the three eight-game pro set doubles matches.

St. Joseph will host No. 3 Bakersfield Centennial in the semifinals Thursday at the SMCC. The match is tentatively scheduled for a 4 p.m. start but may get moved up, as the match Tuesday was. The El Diamante-St. Joseph match got underway at 2:30 p.m. Centennial beat Mission Prep 7-2 on Tuesday.

Emily Wilson, the Knights' No. 1 singles player, downplayed the long layoff between matches. "We had a good week of practice," she said. "We've been putting in the work."

The Knights won Tuesday despite being without injured No. 2 singles player and consistent doubles points contributor Michahjuliana Lundberg.

The freshman had not lost in singles or doubles this year before suffering an injury in the last game of her singles match in the Knights' non-league home win against Santa Ynez Oct. 21. She has not played since.

Wilson and Shianne Gooley, who played at No. 3 singles for St. Joseph Tuesday, were the Knights who had played most recently before their team's quarterfinal playoff match. Wilson and Gooley both made it to the second day of the sectional West Area Tournament, and Wilson advanced to the sectional individual singles tournament.

Neither Wilson nor Gooley lost a game Tuesday. Wilson defeated Remi Perez 6-0, 6-0 in the No. 1 singles match, Gooley downed Aleicha Rajasekaran 6-0, 6-0 at No. 3 then Wilson and Gooley teamed for an 8-0 win over Perez and Leah Leal in the No. 1 doubles match.

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Katelynn Haskell gave the Knights a hard-earned clinching fifth point. She edged Sunny Lillefosse 6-4, 6-7 (4) (11-9) at No. 2 singles in the only three-set match of the day.

Lillefosse forced a second-set tiebreak after trailing 5-3 on Haskell's serve. The Miners' No. 2 player came from 8-2 down in the third set to take a 9-8 lead then beat back a match point.

Haskell ultimately finished the match, and clinched the win for the Knights, with a perfectly-placed drop volley for the last point.

"I hit a lot of drop shots throughout the match," said Haskell. "I didn't go in planning to. It just worked out that way."

During a player break in the midst of Lillefosse's rally, "My coach (Trish Gooley) was telling me that I was playing too tentatively, that I needed to hit out more on my shots," said Haskell.

Janelle Brickey won 6-1, 6-0 at No. 5 singles for St. Joseph and Eva Datuin won 6-0, 6-2 at No. 6. Leal gave the Miners their singles point with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Julia Galloway at No. 4.

El Diamante's Carol Huang and Audrey Pichurko defeated Marlee Hernandez and Gina Rigali 8-4 in the No. 3 doubles match. Lillefusse and Rajasekaran reeled off the last five games to beat Brickey and Datuin 8-6 in the No. 2 doubles match.

Haskell has been battling an injury herself. She did not play in the Knights' last league match, an 8-1 win at Paso Robles, nor did she play at the Mountain League Finals.

"I like where the team is at right now," said Haskell. "We were without MJ in the match today, but she was here, supporting us.

"We had a team dinner, and we made a commitment to win (the Division 2 championship). We've been working hard, putting in the time at practice."  

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Sports Reporter

Kenny Cress, sportswriter for the Santa Maria Times since September of 2000. BA in political science from Cal Poly Pomona. BA in journalism from Cal State Northridge.