Dellacono earns a return trip to State Open tennis final

Stonington's Gabby Dellacono hits a backhand return duriing last month's ECC tournament. Dellacono, a junior and No. 1 seeded, advanced to the singles final of the State Open tennis tournament on Tuesday with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Wilton's Izzy Kozoil. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Stonington's Gabby Dellacono hits a backhand return duriing last month's ECC tournament. Dellacono, a junior and No. 1 seeded, advanced to the singles final of the State Open tennis tournament on Tuesday with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Wilton's Izzy Kozoil. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

West Haven — Gabby Dellacono had her hands on her head, staring at a line that just failed her.

She eked out the first set 7-5 Tuesday afternoon in the State Open girls' tennis semifinals and was now tied 1-1 in the second second set after dropping a game which went to deuce six times, lasting 18 points, during which time both participants could have used a 30-second timeout to ease the tension.

“Like, 'Oh, my God,'” Dellacono said, describing the mentality of both players.

Then, Dellacono, the Stonington High School junior and the tournament's top seed, never lost again, reaching her second straight State Open singles final with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Wilton sophomore Izzy Koziol, the No. 5 seed.

Dellacono will meet No. 6 Alyssa DiMaio of Staples in the championship match at 4 p.m. Wednesday on the main court at the Connecticut Tennis Center, attempting to become Stonington's first State Open champ. DiMaio upended No. 2 Madeline DeNucci of Glastonbury 6-3, 6-1 in Tuesday's other semifinal.

The semifinals were played indoors at the Cullman-Heyman Tennis Center at Yale due to the afternoon's rain.

“After that shot (that went wide, costing Dellacono the game to make it 1-1 in the second), I just restarted,” Dellacono said. “I just forgot about everything in the past.

“I just lost focus (in the first set). It was 5-2 and I was like, 'just get the ball in.' It was be being more defensive. I just needed to start hitting the ball. 'Hit the ball. Do what you were doing earlier.'”

After the tension-filled first set, when Koziol came back to tie things 5-5 before dropping the final two games, Dellacono won the first game of the second set after going to deuce in that game, as well. Dellacono mashed a serve, putting herself in position for a winner on her second shot to make it 1-0.

Koziol then served what was by far the most nervewracking game of the match.

She led 40-30 before Dellacono forced deuce. Dellacono then missed a chance to put the game away when she hit a shot long for an unforced error. Koziol followed with a double fault, putting it back at deuce. And so went the dramatics, with both seemingly giving away opportunities.

Dellacono stood with her hands on her hips at one point. Koziol slid to try to get to a ball, only to punch it into the net.

Koziol finally won the game, claiming the advantage when Dellacono sprayed a ball wide on a return, then hit a ball just wide to the right. Dellacono looked on in disbelief.

“It would be different if she was in control, but that whole time it was me missing the approach shot,” Dellacono said of what frustrated her.

But Dellacono kept breathing. Serving in the middle of the second set, she grabbed a towel from her bag and wiped her hands every couple of points, calming herself.

She started hitting it again, drilling three of her five aces from that point on. She had one blip, a double fault which had her talking to herself a bit in the fifth game, but she kept building.

Dellacono served out the match. She won the first point by hitting a ball so deep Koziol had to play it on the short hop. After the game went to deuce, Dellacono regained the advantage with an ace, then won match point on a second serve Koziol hit wide to the right.

“Awesome,” Stonington coach George Crouse said. “My favorite shot was (with Dellacono) down 30-40 (in the sixth game) … she hit a bullet backhand return. That ball couldn't be hit any harder. I'm going to myself, 'That was amazing.'

“She had a little dip in confidence there, but she got back in it. She basically started to execute better.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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