Mainland girls top Eastern

Eastern's No. 1 Steph Kaplan hits against Midland's Sydni Fahringer during the South Jersey Girls Tennis Group 4 final (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)

In the end, a moral victory wasn't enough for the Eastern girls' tennis team.

There might have been a time, earlier in the state tournament, when the Vikings would have been thrilled with the prospect of making the South Jersey Group 4 finals.

Once there, though, Eastern wanted to win.

The Vikings fell short Monday as Mainland scored a 3-2 victory in the sectional championship match at Vineland.

"I'm really proud that we got this far when nobody expected us to make it," Eastern senior No. 3 singles Jenna Debbs said. "But we really wanted to win. We were really disappointed."

Debbs and junior No. 1 singles Stephanie Kaplan won matches for eighth-seeded Eastern (12-5).

Mainland, the No. 2 seed, got victories from No. 2 singles Julia Zeltner and the doubles teams of Erin Hanlon and Tamir Lewkowitz and Lauren Devine and Nicole Nardi.

Mainland (11-1) advances to Wednesday's state semifinals against North Jersey section II champion Livingston at Mercer County Park.

It was quite a run to the sectional final for Eastern. The Vikings beat ninth-seeded Shawnee (4-1), top-seeded Toms River South (3-2) and fifth-seeded Clearview (4-1) to reach the championship match.

"Where we were supposed to be on paper versus where these girls ended up is astounding," Eastern coach George Kemery said. "But they wanted to win this match."

Kaplan led the Vikings through the tournament, winning all her matches against opposing No. 1 singles players.

"She didn't just win, she was dominating," Kemery said. "She really turned the corner."

Kaplan, who defeated Mainland's Sydni Fahringer by a 6-0, 6-3 score, said the Vikings gained confidence during the course of their tournament run.

"We just got stronger and stronger," Kaplan said. "We really thought we could win it. We were the underdogs. Nobody believed we could do it."

Debbs said the Vikings' disappointment didn't last the whole ride home from Vineland.

"We were sad but then we got on the bus and started dancing and we were OK," Debbs said.

S.J. Group 4 Final

Mainland 3, Eastern 2

Stephanie Kaplan, E, def. Sydni Fahringer, 6-0, 6-3; Julia Zeltner, M, def. Katie Botto, 7-5, 6-0; Jenna Debbs, E, def. Nicole Fahringer, 6-0, 6-4; Erin Hanlon and Tamir Lewkowitz, M, def. Suzanne Chou and Alisha Daga, 6-3, 6-0; Lauren Devine and Nicole Nardi, M, def. Erica Bleicher and Kavya Bodapati, 6-1, 6-4.

Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223 or