FORTVILLE — Des Evans put in his steps during the Mt. Vernon tennis sectional championship.
Roaming around the perimeter of the school’s tennis courts, as is the New Palestine head coach’s routine during duals, Evans was chasing multiples of three on Saturday morning.
After New Palestine sophomore Matthew True won No. 1 singles in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0, Evans bee-lined over to his doubles teams for a quick update, then off he went to his other singles matches.
Stopping to offer a few encouraging words along the way, Evans picked up the pace as play tighten, until his Dragons finally slowed their coach’s strides.
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Securing the first three matches against an inspired Greenfield-Central Cougars team, New Palestine successfully defended its title and extended its championship streak to five consecutive with a narrow 3-2 victory.
“It was definitely tough,” True remarked after the program captured its 15th sectional title overall. “They’re a very good senior team that was out for blood against us.”
Motivated to make up for their 3-2 loss during the regular season when the Dragons swept all three singles spots, the Cougars dedicated their efforts to senior teammate Zak Lawhorn, who was sidelined due to a hand injury.
In attendance, Lawhorn watched as the Cougars battled in hopes of snapping their nine-year sectional drought, but the Dragons stayed within their game, despite the pressure.
“It was a grind, and I’m really proud of them. We’ve had teams throughout the season pushing us, and we had a couple of close ones,” Evans said. “Greenfield-Central played well. It was a good match, very tight and I’m relieved that we were able to manage to win sectional.”
County champions Tyler Swain and Nick Rusche made sure of it by taking No. 2 doubles, 6-2, 6-2, while fellow junior Patrick Hefferman won No. 3 singles 6-0, 6-3.
Swain and Rusche increased their perfect record to 15-0. True improved to 17-3, and Hefferman won his 13th match of the season.
“We definitely came in today knowing if we were going to get the win, it was going to be a close one, and we knew it was extremely possible. I think New Pal knew the same thing,” Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Turpin said. “They got up early in three singles and two doubles, taking the first set and didn’t let up.
“They knew what they needed to do as soon as they came out here, had a pretty smart game plan and stuck to it.”
The Dragons couldn’t account for senior Nate Real, though, as he avenged his regular-season loss at No. 2 singles with a 6-4, 6-1 victory.
Against the county champion No. 1 doubles tandem of senior Saben Fletcher and Dylan Wilburn, the Dragons could only score a moral victory, winning the first set 7-5. The Cougars regrouped and won the next two 6-0, 6-2.
Fletcher and Wilburn are now 16-3 this year and 2-0 in the postseason. They will advance into the individual state tournament for a second straight season.
“I’m excited to see what they can do in the tournament,” Turpin said. “Every single one of them came out and played their hearts out today. They have nothing to hang their heads over. It just wasn’t quite our day.”
The Cougars finished the season at 8-8, defeating Mt. Vernon 4-1 in the sectional semifinals to earn the right to challenge the Dragons in the finals for the first time in three years.
Next season’s roster, however, will lose five seniors, which made their last match together emotional as they left the court.
“It’s pretty difficult because I’ve been head coach for two years, JV coach for two years, so this is my first group that I have been with for four years straight,” Turpin said. “It won’t be the last group I have, but it’s definitely special. They are probably the most upstanding group I’ve ever worked with in anything.”
For the Dragons (17-3), the team’s five juniors and two sophomores will travel to the North Central Regional to play the winner of the Lawrence North Sectional today at 4:30 p.m.
Last year, they lost to Hamilton Southeastern 5-0 and closed the campaign 20-1-1 en route to defending their county championship as well. The young Dragons won their seventh straight county team title last month.
“It’s pretty cool that we don’t have any seniors. It gives us a chance to grow together,” True remarked. “I definitely want to play my game and play my best for the team (at regional). Hopefully, we can be competitive in all of our matches.”
Mt. Vernon Sectional Championship
New Palestine 3, Greenfield-Central 2
No. 1 singles: Matthew True, NP def. Mason Bussel, GC, 6-0, 6-0
No. 2 singles: Nathaniel Real, GC def. Gavin Carson, NP, 6-4, 6-1
No. 3 singles: Patrick Hefferman, NP def. Kyle Willis, GC, 6-0, 6-3
No. 1 doubles: Saben Fletcher/Dylan Wilburn, GC def. Colby Wagoner/David Hockett, NP, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2
No. 2 doubles: Tyler Swain/Nick Rusche, NP def. Kole Willis/Bradley McDowell, GC, 6-2, 6-2
Team records: Greenfield-Central 8-8/New Palestine 17-3