Bid for perfect high school career falls short

STOCKTON — Kaitlyn Brayton was perfect until the end, when the Escalon High senior's bid for a Sac-Joaquin Section record fourth consecutive tennis title and an unbeaten prep career fell short.

Brayton was 84-0 going into Friday's Division 3 girls final versus Adaugo Ukaegbu of Center, a rematch of last year's final won 6-4, 7-5 by Brayton.

The 6-foot-1 Ukaegbu, much improved from a year ago, extracted her revenge and ended Brayton's dream of a perfect career with a 6-2, 6-2 win.

"No one needs to feel sorry for me," said Brayton, also an all-Stanislaus District volleyball player. "She was a better player than me. It would have been sweet to win a fourth title, but second place is nice."

She'll stay tied with Justin-Siena's Lisa Hull as the only three-time winners of a D-3 girls' singles tennis title. Hull won her titles from 1984-86.

Brayton was able to stay on the baseline and force Ukaegbu into errors, but that strategy didn't work this time. Not only was Ukaegbu's booming serve putting Brayton on the defensive, she was much better on the baseline this year.

"She was cracking it back at Kaitlyn from the baseline," coach Dan Thompson said. "Kaitlyn's more of a counter-puncher — identify a weakness and then capitalizing on it."

Brayton won her quarterfinal 6-2, 6-2, then rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the first set of the semifinal to win 7-6 (7-4), 6-3. In the second match, she adjusted her game late in the first set to pull out a victory.

"The girl had a great forehand, but not much of a backhand," Thompson said. "Kaitlyn started hitting so the girl had to go to her backhand, and she owned it from there."

Brayton's played that way since arriving as a freshman, when she began playing tennis for the first time. She was previously a softball player.

"I knew the coach's daughter and she said I should play tennis," Brayton said. "I beat her the first day and beat the girl who was No. 1 the next."

She was 66-0 through three seasons and The Bee's Player of the Year last year. She still has some tennis to play: Escalon is the top seed in the section team tennis tourney and it hosts Marysville on Monday.

Brayton is going out a winner, Thompson said, regardless of what occurred Friday.

"She has nothing to prove, not with her career," said Thompson, noting Brayton had lost one set in her career prior to Friday. "She has always played smart. A lot of kids try to cream every shot, but Kaitlyn plays the percentages."