FORTVILLE — Some might consider it cliché, but it’s working, and the New Palestine Dragons aren’t about to change anything.
Not this time of the year.
“We had the same approach (today) as we have before,” New Palestine boys tennis coach Des Evans remarked Wednesday. “As usual, we’re taking it one match at a time and basically, we’re not taking anything for granted.”
During the Mt. Vernon Sectional quarterfinals against Eastern Hancock, the defending champions cleared their first postseason hurdle with a 5-0 sweep in pursuit of a potential sixth consecutive title.
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The Dragons, who improved to 17-4 on the season, will now face Pendleton Heights in the semifinals today at 5 p.m., while rivals Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon will play in the other semifinal.
New Palestine drew the long road when the sectional pairings were announced by the Indiana High School Athletic Association on Monday. Opening on Wednesday in the first round, the Dragons need to win three straight matches in three days to capture the program’s 16th sectional title since claiming their first in 1992.
For the first act, the Dragons won each match in straight sets, surrendering only eight games.
Matthew True won at No. 1 singles 6-1, 6-0 to increase his season record to 17-4. At No. 1 doubles, Nick Rusche and Colby Wagoner cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 victory to improve their record to 17-3.
Ben Blachly won 6-0, 6-1 at No. 2 singles, and Carson Gavin overcame Eastern Hancock’s Ian White 6-4, 6-1 at No. 3 singles.
David Hockett, who paired with Dane Reid on Wednesday, saw his season record jump to 20-1 as the No. 2 doubles duo won 6-1, 6-0.
Hockett opened the season with Steven Gutzwiller as his partner, but an illness has sidelined the latter since New Palestine seized its eighth consecutive Hancock County team championship earlier this month.
The Dragons swept all five individual county titles and won the outright Hoosier Heritage Conference championship this month.
Despite their season success, the team is fixated on zeros, Evans emphasized, meaning they’re 0-0 every time they step on the court.
“Our guys are aware that we’ve beaten Pendleton, Greenfield and Mt. Vernon all 5-0 this season, but that doesn’t get us a straightforward passage through sectional,” Evans said. “You got to get the business done in each match. We have to work hard.”
In recent days, Pendleton Heights has played spoiler against Hancock County teams. The Arabians halted both the Mt. Vernon girls and boys soccer programs from claiming outright HHC championships, and they rallied to beat Mt. Vernon 23-21 with a late field goal in football.
The Dragons felt the Arabians sting this past spring in girls tennis.
“We’re very aware of the fact that the girls beat Pendleton in their last regular-season match and then lost to Pendleton in the first round of sectional,” Evans said. “I reminded our guys of that.”
In their regular-season meeting, Pendleton Heights’ closest match against New Palestine was at No. 2 singles, which Blachly won over Walker Stull 6-3, 7-6 (5). Rusche and Hockett were challenged at No. 1 doubles on Sept. 11, but they won 6-2, 6-3.
Mt. Vernon Sectional (quarterfinals)
New Palestine 5, Eastern Hancock 0
No. 1 Singles: Matthew True (NP) def. Duncan Cherry (EH) 6-1, 6-0
No. 2 Singles: Ben Blachly (NP) def. Kodey Huff (EH) 6-0, 6-1
No. 3 Singles: Carson Gavin (NP) def. Ian White (EH) 6-4, 6-1
No. 1 Doubles: Nick Rusche/Colby Wagoner (NP) def. Jack Smith/Peyton Robertson (EH) 6-0, 6-0
No. 2 Doubles: David Hockett/Dane Reid (NP) def. Brady Ellis/Keegan Bowman (EH) 6-1, 6-0
Team Records: EH 3-11/NP 16-4