NEW PALESTINE — Complacency is a threat for any tennis team in late September. Des Evans knows this, but the first-year New Palestine head coach refuses to let it creep into his players’ minds.
Confidence is permitted, and rightfully so, for the 18-1-1 Dragons as they enter this week’s sectional tournament at Mt. Vernon, but that’s where it ends.
Unbeaten in head-to-head matches against three of their four postseason foes, the Hancock County champion Dragons are in ideal position to seize a potential fourth straight sectional title.
Now, it’s time to stay focused, said Evans, who understands the challenge at hand — and a probable rematch with Mt. Vernon in the sectional finals.
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“We have to be on form,” Evans said. “It looks like it could come down to Friday afternoon again with the two rivals.
“I’ve basically told them that Mt. Vernon probably feels the pressure is on us because we won the county and we managed to edge them 3-2 a couple of weeks ago in the regular season. If that is the case, then we have to be up for the occasion and be able to take whatever is thrown at us.”
Their first postseason hurdle is against Eastern Hancock in Thursday’s semifinals at 5 p.m. Mt. Vernon received the first-round bye and will play the winner between Greenfield-Central and Pendleton Heights in the second semifinal.
The first-round match will be at 5 p.m. today. The sectional final is set for 5 p.m. Friday.
Host Mt. Vernon hasn’t won a sectional title since 2011. Overall, the Marauders own 11 championships in school history, but the Dragons have surged to 13, including two sets of three-peats from 2008-10 and 2012-14.
The Marauders nearly toppled the Dragons in the Hancock County Boys Tennis Tournament at home earlier this month, falling five points and one title match win from halting New Palestine’s now six-year run.
During the teams’ regular-season dual, the Dragons prevailed 3-2 in a thriller that came down to the final match at No. 2 doubles.
Last year, Mt. Vernon lost to New Palestine in the sectional finals, 5-0, but head coach Gabe Muterspaugh doesn’t believe the margin will be as lopsided, if the two teams happen to meet, again.
“We’ve told our guys from the very beginning, you have to beat the best team at some point. Whether it’s first or last,” Muterspaugh said. “You always, hopefully, want to have the two best teams playing in the final. That makes it exciting, but we won’t look past that first match. If you do, you’re going to be at home on Friday.
“We’ll take care of whoever wins that first match, and then prepare for the final.”
The Marauders’ strengths remain with their singles players in No. 1 Brendon Ware (13-7), No. 2 Ryan Beck (15-5) and No. 3 Matt Hays (16-4).
The trio were instrumental in the team’s 4-1 regular-season victory against Greenfield-Central and 3-2 win against Pendleton Heights last month. The Marauders finished the regular-season with a 12-4 record.
New Palestine has consistently relied on the pedigree of freshman Matthew True at No. 2 singles where he is 19-1 this season. However, in both nip-and-tuck scenarios against Mt. Vernon, the Dragons’ doubles teams have been the difference makers.
Josh McKinney and Evan Rejer both won the county’s No. 1 doubles title and defeated Mt. Vernon 6-1, 6-1 in their two-on-two showdown at New Palestine.
David Hockett and Conner Page tipped the scales though, rallying back 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the dual with Mt. Vernon and storming back from a first-set deficit and a setback in the third and final set to win at county against Greenfield-Central.
New Palestine swept both Greenfield-Central (11-11), who will enter the postseason shorthanded, and Pendleton Heights 5-0 this year. They beat Eastern Hancock in three head-to-head matches at county.
If there is a danger, Evans noted, it will Mt. Vernon and putting too much faith in the past.
“It’s not easy (beating a team three times). You prepare for the occasion and you gear up for it, and then you manage to pull it off in a close one at the county and then you have to gear them up again,” Evans said. “And here we are probably having to do it again on Friday afternoon. I’ve tried to prepare them for that. … I’ve basically told them, ‘you can’t take anything for granted.’ They have to fight for every point because it’s going to be a tough match.”
What: Mt. Vernon Boys Tennis Sectional
Where: Mt. Vernon High School (tennis courts)
When: Sept. 30 through Oct. 2
Teams (5): Pendleton Heights, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon, New Palestine, Eastern Hancock
Pairings: Wednesday – Pendleton Heights vs. Greenfield-Central, 5 p.m.; Thursday – New Palestine vs. Eastern Hancock, 5 p.m. / Mt. Vernon vs. Wednesday’s winner, 5 p.m.; Friday – championship match, 5 p.m.
2015 All-Hancock County winners in the field
No. 1 singles: Brendon Ware, Mt. Vernon
No. 2 singles: Matthew True, New Palestine
No. 3 singles: Matt Hays, Mt. Vernon
No. 1 doubles: Josh McKinney/Evan Rejer, New Palestine
No. 2 doubles: Conner Page/David Hockett, New Palestine
New Palestine 18-1-1
Mt. Vernon 12-4
Eastern Hancock 9-6
Pendleton Heights 7-7
* records as reported on 9/28/2015
Results against the sectional field
New Palestine: W, 5-0 vs. Pendleton Heights, W, 3-2 vs. Mt. Vernon, W, 5-0 vs. Greenfield-Central
Mt. Vernon: W, 3-2 vs. Pendleton Heights, W, 4-1 vs. Greenfield-Central, L, 3-2 vs. New Palestine
Greenfield-Central: L, 5-0 vs. New Palestine, L, 4-1 vs. Mt. Vernon, W, 3-2 vs. Pendleton Heights
* Results as of 9/28/2015