FORTVILLE — The Greenfield-Central Cougars needed their big three to come through on Wednesday night.
Down two starters at two key spots in the lineup to open the Mt. Vernon boys tennis sectional, every point was magnified against Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Pendleton Heights.
But the pressure wasn’t anything new for the team’s core group.
“This has been a very interesting season for us. I’ve seen more things than I could imagine, and the team has faced some adversity, but our motto all year has been next man up. And they held strong to it,” first-year Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Turpin said. “We finished it today to win 4-1.”
Turpin and his Cougars have dealt with several unexpected injuries and other setbacks throughout the year. The latest scenario left them without seniors Tommy Graham at No. 3 singles and Jerry Fogle at No. 2 doubles.
Despite the pressure of elimination, they overcame the problem with crucial wins from juniors Zak Lawhorn at No. 1 singles, Nate Real at No. 2 singles and the tandem of Saben Fletcher and Dylan Wilburn at No. 1 doubles.
Lawhorn, a Hancock County runner-up, dominated his match, defeating Noah Gaar 6-0, 6-4.
Earlier this season, Greenfield-Central beat Pendleton Heights 3-2 with Lawhorn winning in three sets, dropping the second 6-2.
While Lawhorn improved, Real and the Cougars’ No. 1 doubles team had to go to three sets this time around after beating their opponents in two straight the last time they met.
Real lost the first 6-4 before he stormed back to take the next two sets 6-0, 6-2. Fletcher and Wilburn dropped the first 7-5, but they regrouped to take the next two 6-3, 6-3.
“They both showed just how mentally tough they’ve become this year,” Turpin said. “We talk about new sets, fresh start, go from there and get it done. They both knew if they took it to the third, it would be theirs. They did exactly what they needed to do.”
Freshman Noah Mohler filled in at No. 2 doubles and helped provide a spark with Brady Wright against Brady Alumbaugh and Jackson Schlegelumilch.
The newly formed duo teamed to win the first set 6-3 and the persevered in the second 7-6 (9-7).
The Cougars only loss was at No. 3 singles where Chris Wu stepped in after only a handful of varsity matches this season. He lost 6-3, 6-1.
“We really wanted to win tonight,” Wilburn said. “We want to play New Palestine and try to make it to regional.”
The Cougars (12-11) first need to beat Mt. Vernon in the sectional semifinals at 5 p.m. today. If they can avenge their 4-1 regular-season loss to the host Marauders (12-4), they could meet New Palestine (18-1-1) in the sectional finals on Friday.
“Obviously, tonight is a good motivator. It’s going to get them going. They have momentum going into it. It’s always nice to have a bye, but it’s also nice for us to have a warm-up match,” Turpin said. “Those three guys, I have no doubt they can get it done, but it really depends on who takes control of the match.”
Mt. Vernon Boys Tennis Sectional
Greenfield-Central 4, Pendleton Heights 1
No. 1 singles: Zak Lawhorn (GC) def. Noah Gaar (PH), 6-0, 6-4
No. 2 singles: Nate Real (GC) def. Drew Wilson (PH), 4-6, 6-0, 6-2
No. 3 singles: Jordan Harmeson (PH) def. Chris Wu (GC), 6-3, 6-1
No. 1 doubles: Saben Fletcher/Dylan Wilburn (GC) def. Ben Kane/Nate Norris (PH), 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
No. 2 doubles: Noah Mohler/Brady Wright (GC) def. Brady Alumbaugh/Jackson Schlegelumilch (PH)