FORTVILLE — As each championship finals match unfolded Saturday afternoon, the numbers were crunched, projected and calculated again.
There was no room for error. Not with a mere three points separating three teams and 16 points up for grabs as the Hancock County Tennis Tournament team title hung in the balance.
“One down, two to go,” Mt. Vernon head coach Gabe Muterspaugh remarked in passing as one match concluded and he sped by the score card zip-tied on display nearby. “It’s going to be close.”
Before the championship round began, Greenfield-Central and host Mt. Vernon each advanced three into the finals. The defending county champion New Palestine Dragons had four.
Every match counted and Muterspaugh and first-year head coaches Michael Turpin of Greenfield-Central and Des Evans of New Palestine did the math — the first to three, wins.
For a sixth straight year, the New Palestine Dragons carried the one.
While a contrast to their uncontested 35-point maximum sweep from a year ago, the Dragons collectively banded together, winning three finals matches and a third-place match to fend off the charging Cougars and Marauders.
New Palestine scored 26 points. Runner-up Mt. Vernon finished with 21 and Greenfield-Central was third at 13 with Eastern Hancock at fourth.
“It was an enjoyable county, very competitive, and I think sectional will be very competitive as well,” Evans said after claiming his first county tournament championship. “Some of our younger players like Matthew True played extremely well today. Fortunately, we managed to pull it out.”
New Palestine accumulated 12 team points through the play-in rounds and earned an additional two points from senior Coltin Espich’s third-place finale at No. 1 singles against Eastern Hancock’s Duncan Cherry.
The deciders, however, came into play with their doubles teams and True at No. 2 singles.
First, Josh McKinney and Evan Rejer defeated Greenfield-Central’s Saben Fletcher and Dylan Wilburn, 6-3, 6-3 to keep the Cougars at bay.
Then, Conner Page and David Hockett beat Jerry Fogle and Brady Wright, 7-5, 6-1, but Mt. Vernon kept stride.
Matt Hays ran his season record to 12-2 to win the No. 3 singles individual title by beating New Palestine’s Nick Ochs, 6-3, 6-1.
Brendon Ware battled Greenfield-Central’s Zak Lawhorn, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, to win at No. 1 singles. Mt. Vernon’s doubles teams both won their third-place matches, which put New Palestine’s margin at 22-21.
“We knew our two dubs at the end and Matthew True at two singles, we had to win those if we were going to take the county,” Evans said.
True, a freshman, faced an uphill battled against Mt. Vernon’s Ryan Beck, who was 11-1 prior to their match.
Down at one point in the first set, True, who carried a 9-1 record into the tournament, regrouped and rallied back to win 7-5.
“I always start out slow at the beginning of sets. I’ve done it before, so I know what I need to do, come out strong and keep positive,” True said. “My coaches just reminded me to stay calm. I just tried to block the other stuff out and play my game.”
Working with Evans, a tennis pro at the Indianapolis Racquet Club, the past five years, True came back with a decisive 6-2 second set, countering Beck’s strong net game with pinpoint serves and heavy backhand volleys.
Once he earned the final point, the Dragons let out a well-earned sigh of relief.
“I did kind of feel like our backs were against the wall, like it was time for our streak to end, but I’m glad it’s not,” McKinney said. “It feels really good to get it.
“I feel like every year we’re facing some sort of adversity. This year, we changed coaches and lost a lot of the varsity lineup, but the ones that stayed like the three of us (Espich and Evan Rejer), we’ve put in the time and led. We’re back right here.”
Winning the past five titles with former coach Chris Hardin, who was in attendance, the Dragons credit coach Evans for the team’s quick development and continued consistency.
Team chemistry has played a critical role as well, Evans and the Dragons noted, especially as they overcame the strong play from all sides by the Cougars and Marauders.
“All of us as one group helped us win this,” Espich said. “If one person didn’t win, then we wouldn’t have won. Every match was important to us. It had to be.”
With one goal achieved, the Dragons look to finish the regular season strong, including a rematch with Mt. Vernon on Sept. 22 before sectional in October where all four county teams meet again.
“This is a dress rehearsal for sectional. It’s big to know what we’re going up against,” Rejer said. “Now, we’ve seen things, we can make adjustments and hopefully we’ll be back in the same place we’ve been at before.”
“It’ll be four years in a row,” McKinney added when discussing another potential sectional title. “Four-peat.”
2015 Hancock County Boys Tennis Tournament
at Mt. Vernon High School
New Palestine 26
Mt. Vernon 21
Eastern Hancock 2
Championship Match Results
No. 1 singles: Brendon Ware (MV) def. Zak Lawhorn (GC), 6-3, 5-7, 6-3
No. 2 singles: Matthew True (NP) def. Ryan Beck (MV), 7-5, 6-2
No. 3 singles: Matt Hays (MV) def. Nick Ochs (NP), 6-3, 6-1
No. 1 doubles: Josh McKinney/Evan Rejer (NP) def. Saben Fletcher/Dylan Wilburn (GC), 6-3, 6-3
No. 2 doubles: Conner Page/David Hockett (NP) def. Jerry Fogle/Brady Wright (GC), 7-5, 6-1
Third-place Match Results
No. 1 singles: Coltin Espich (NP) def. Duncan Cherry (EH), 6-0, 6-0
No. 2 singles: Nate Real (GC) def. Garek Ferguson (EH), 6-1, 6-3
No. 3 singles: Corbin Jennings (EH) def. Tommy Graham (GC), 5-7, 6-2, 6-1
No. 1 doubles: W. Baldwin/G. Stamper (MV) def. B. Jackson/T. Cape (EH), 6-1, 6-0
No. 2 doubles: J. Swift/N. Grandstaff (MV) def. J. Smith/C. Alberts (EH), 6-1, 6-2
JV Team Scores
New Palestine 22
Mt. Vernon 11
Eastern Hancock 2