NEW PALESTINE — With the target squarely on their backs, the New Palestine Dragons found comfort amidst the pressure during the Hancock County boys tennis tournament.
Rival Greenfield-Central came out on Saturday focused to challenge with their strong singles play, while Mt. Vernon attempted to flank with their doubles teams.
The Dragons held true to form, however, sweeping all five individual varsity titles and their eighth consecutive team championship with a decisive 24-point margin on their home courts.
“There is pressure but having this pressure is a privilege to us because competing is fun for us,” New Palestine No. 1 singles player Matthew True remarked. “Just going out and doing our best to win today was fantastic.”
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The Dragons were literally flawless in their quest, scoring a perfect 35 points en route to claiming the team title. Mt. Vernon was second with 11 points, Greenfield-Central was third with 10 and Eastern Hancock was fourth with four points.
“It’s a big streak we’ve worked hard to keep, and it’s just cool to see all of the hard work we’ve put into it push this to eight years in a row,” Dragons’ No. 3 singles player Carson Gavin said. “We came in focused to win.”
True, who successfully defended his individual title at No. 1 singles, achieved another career milestone in the process.
The junior opened with a 6-1, 6-0 win against Eastern Hancock’s Duncan Cherry before reaching career-win No. 50 as he defeated Greenfield-Central’s Kole Willis 6-1, 6-0 in the finals.
“It’s not easy playing No. 1. Everyone tries to beat you, and I know Kole Willis came to beat Matthew. Fortunately, Matthew was able to beat him in the final match,” New Palestine head coach Des Evans said.
Much like they’ve done all season, the Dragons’ (10-4) singles trio followed each others’ leads, matching one another nearly point for point.
Gavin won his first match 6-1, 6-0 against Greenfield-Central’s Brad McDowell and finished the day with a 6-2, 6-1 win against Mt. Vernon’s Reece Powell.
Ben Blachly, at No. 2 singles, had to dig deep during his championship run, falling down a set 1-6 in the finals against Greenfield-Central’s Mason Bussel.
“I had a slower start in the first set then I wanted to. He was hitting a lot of lobs and slowing the pace, so I was having a lot of trouble putting him away, and I was honestly pretty worried towards the start,” Blachly said. “But I came back and pulled it out for the win.”
Blachly won the next two sets 6-4, 6-1 to secure the victory and the team’s 5-0 run in the final round.
“We were the heavy favorites today, so it means a lot to win the county title. It’s very special,” Blachly said. “I was impressed by the way we focused and got down to business and got the win.”
The Dragons’ doubles tandems turned the most heads by defeating two of Mt. Vernon’s three finalists. Without Nick Rusche in the lineup as he attended his brother’s wedding, the Dragons shifted their doubles pairing with Dane Reid filling in at No. 2 doubles.
The change made little difference as Reid and David Hockett handed Mt. Vernon’s Peyton Meadors and Sam McCarty (14-1) their first loss of the season with a 6-2, 6-3 win in the finals.
Steven Gutzwiller, who normally plays with Hockett, teamed with Colby Wagoner at No. 1 doubles, and the duo defeated Mt. Vernon’s Brayden Browning and Sam Frye 6-3, 6-1.
“Our strength has been our doubles and they showed it early today. I was extremely proud of Reece Powell, a sophomore at three singles in the finals. New Pal is a good team, a top-20 team, and they proved it today,” Mt. Vernon head coach Gabe Muterspaugh said. “Does that mean we’re too far off? No. We have work to do, and our guys know it.”
Greenfield-Central had two third-place finishes to go with their two runner-up placements. McDowell was third at No. 3 singles and Garrett McKee and Sam Gaylean were third at No. 2 doubles.
Eastern Hancock’s Duncan Cherry placed third at No. 1 singles, while Jack Smith and Peyton Robertson were third at No. 1 doubles.
Mt. Vernon added one third-place medal with Chris Hays at No. 2 singles to go with their trio of runner-up placements.
“Hats off to New Pal today, but once again, we’ll see them a couple more times and we’ll get after it,” Muterspaugh said.
The Marauders and Dragons will meet later during the regular season for a dual on Sept. 19 and possibly once again in the Mt. Vernon Sectional later this month.
“We had the same approach we always do. Play it match by match and point by point. Don’t worry too much about the result, focus on the performance,” Evans said. “Generally, I think it worked out.”
The Dragons have a busy week ahead with four matches in four days before the season’s final week, highlighted by a rematch with Mt. Vernon. Afterward, they head into the postseason when New Palestine hopes to chase down a potential sixth straight sectional title.
“We try not to rest on our laurels and never underestimate our opponents,” Evans said. “I’m pleased with how they knuckled down and did the job.”
Hancock County Tennis Tournament
Team Scores: New Palestine 35, Mt. Vernon 11, Greenfield-Central 10, Eastern Hancock 4
Championship Match results
1 Singles: Matthew True (NP) def. Kole Willis (GC) 6-1, 6-0
2 Singles: Ben Blachly (NP) def. Mason Bussel (GC) 1-6, 6-4, 6-1
3 Singles: Carson Gavin (NP) def. Reece Powell (MV) 6-2, 6-1
1 Doubles: Steven Gutzwiller/Colby Wagoner (NP) def. Brayden Browning/Sam Grye (MV) 6-3, 6-1
2 Doubles: David Hockett/Dane Reid (NP) def. Peyton Meadors/Sam McCarty (MV) 6-2, 6-3
Third-Place Match Results
1 Singles: Duncan Cherry (EH) def. Matthew McCullough (MV) 6-1, 6-0
2 Singles: Chris Hays (MV) def. Kodey Huff (EH) 6-3, 5-3
2 Singles: Brad McDowell (GC) def. Ian White (EH) 6-1, 6-1
1 Doubles: Jack Smith/Peyton Robertson (EH) def. Steven Roland/Colin Hunt (GC) 6-4, 4-6, 13-11
2 Doubles: Garrett McKee/Sam Galyean (GC) def. Keegan Bowman/Brady Ellis (EH) 6-4, 6-2
JV Team Scores: New Palestine 22, Mt. Vernon 21, Greenfield-Central 15, Eastern Hancock 2