NEW PALESTINE — After nine anxious days of waiting, the New Palestine Dragons were more than ready.
Originally set to defend their Hancock County Tennis Tournament team title on Sept. 10, consecutive rain outs the past two Saturdays put them on standby. From the first match Monday night on their home courts, they showed zero lag and dominated to a seventh straight team championship.
After nearly five hours of tennis, the Dragons claimed three individual county titles at No. 1 singles with Matthew True, No. 3 singles with Patrick Hefferman, and behind the resilient duo of Tyler Swain and Nick Rusche at No. 2 doubles.
“It was a long wait, but we came in here and just played together as a team,” True remarked after winning his second straight career county championship. “We were a family today. We cheered each other on and got our business done.”
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The Dragons advanced into the finals at each position to build an early five point lead 15-10 over Mt. Vernon, which finished runner-up with 16 points. Eastern Hancock was fourth with two points.
Greenfield-Central placed third at 15 points, but they trailed by a mere six points behind New Palestine, entering the finals. From there, the Dragons racked up 12 decisive points for 27 overall, one better than a year ago.
“Greenfield and Mt. Vernon played well, and I said to the team, ‘we have to be up for it. There is going to be a lot of pressure. Basically, the same sort of pressure as sectional,'” New Palestine head coach Des Evans said. “Whichever team pushes through the pressure, is the team that is going to win.”
The Dragons kept their collective cool, winning three of the five head-to-head matches in the finals they faced against both Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central.
True, who is 12-3 on the season, battled to defeat Greenfield-Central’s Zak Lawhorn 6-4, 6-4. Hefferman defeated Mt. Vernon’s Brendan Pratt 6-2, 6-4.
Wilken Baldwin prevailed for the Mt. Vernon Marauders at No. 2 singles to claim his first-career county crown with a 6-4, 6-1 victory against New Palestine’s Carson Gavin.
At No. 1 doubles, Greenfield-Central’s Saben Fletcher and Dylan Wilburn won 6-4, 6-0 against New Palestine’s David Hockett and Colby Wagoner. The title for the Cougars tandem was their first after taking runner-up last fall.
“It feels good, but I wish we could have gotten this as a team,” Fletcher said. “I think we just need to play our game and the matches will play out how they need to, once we get to sectional.”
Swain and Rusche had a postseason mentality in their match against Greenfield-Central’s Kyle Willis and Noah Mohler at No. 2 doubles. The Dragons lost to the twosome during their regular-season meeting, but they learned from the setback.
“Fortunately, our two doubles team after losing the first set was able to turn it around,” Evans said. “We were pushed today. It wasn’t easy.”
Swain and Rusche dropped the first set 6-1, but they regrouped quickly to win the next two 6-1, 6-2 and erase any doubt in the final outcome.
“We knew it would be tough, but when you look at the matchups in the finals, our guys all lost to the champions,” Mt. Vernon Gabe Muterspaugh said. “New Pal is loaded. Greenfield has some strong doubles, and it was a lot of fun. The season is two-thirds in. We’ll be ready for sectional.”
The postseason will begin next week when the Dragons will seek to extend another streak after winning four straight.
Evan expects another round of “tight matches” when the scene shifts to Mt. Vernon for sectional, but for now, the Dragons will enjoy the present before spearheading their focus on the future.
“I’m just really happy for the team and the coaches,” Swain noted on the program’s county run. “I’m glad that we get to be a part of it.”