FORTVILLE — The first few matches during Thursday’s Mt. Vernon boys tennis sectional semifinals played out exactly how both opposing coaches predicted, but it didn’t make the mood any less tense.
Once Mt. Vernon won at both No. 1 and No. 2 doubles, Marauders head coach Gabe Muterspaugh exhaled briefly as he increased his pace around the courts.
Greenfield-Central head coach Michael Turpin wore his own path, his stare swiveling in three different directions simultaneously.
“We both knew it was going to come down to the wire,” Turpin remarked. “We knew it was going to come down to singles.”
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While defending champion New Palestine (18-4) wasted little time ousting Pendleton Heights 5-0 in the other semifinal, all eyes fell on the singles matches between the Marauders and Cougars.
Mt. Vernon junior Thomas Obergfell gave each of them something to remember.
A first-year player for the Marauders, Obergfell delivered the sport’s equivalent of a walk-off, winning at No. 3 singles 6-3, 6-4 to seize the match’s coveted third point.
“We really wanted to come out and fight and battle. Our doubles have been really strong, so I trust in them. I thought I would put everything on the line and try to get a win for us,” said Obergfell, a baseball player recently turned multi-sport athlete. “It came together in the clutch.”
Obergfell’s intentions proved the difference as Greenfield-Central senior Kole Willis later charged back to win at No. 1 singles and junior Mason Bussel won his No. 2 singles match 6-1, 6-4.
“I never ever even had a lesson. I just came in and Gabe and coach Chris (Zelinga) have helped me out a ton. Helping with everything, so I have to give a lot of credit to them, and my dad (Dave), too,” Obergfell said.
Talked into playing tennis by Marauders junior Peyton Meadors, a team leader at No. 2 doubles, and after years of his mother, Kristin, a former player at Fort Wayne Snider, trying to get him to compete, Obergfell stepped up at the perfect time.
“Thomas was huge for us. The kid is naturally talented. He has no clue how to play tennis, but he’s a fighter. Give me fighters and give me athletes, and we’ll figure it out,” Muterspaugh said.
Muterspaugh’s band of Marauders (11-8) found a way, as they have all season, to win 3-2 and secure a meeting with New Palestine in the sectional finals tonight at 4:30 p.m. on their home courts.
Mt. Vernon’s win against Greenfield-Central nearly mirrored their regular-season victory 3-2 on Sept. 5. The only difference was Bussel’s placement, moving up from No. 3 singles to No. 2.
The win also erased last year’s postseason setback. Mt. Vernon lost to Greenfield-Central in the 2016 sectional semifinals 4-1.
“I’m one of those coaches who always remembers the losses more than the wins sometimes, and that is one that has eaten me for a year,” Muterspaugh said. “I didn’t care if we won during the year. I wanted to win this one.”
The Marauders doubles teams put them in position. Juniors Brayden Browning and Sam Frye won their match at No. 1 doubles 6-2, 6-2. Meadors, a rising basketball standout, and junior Sam McCarty, another baseball player recruited to the team, won 6-1, 6-2 at No. 2 doubles.
“We knew our doubles had to set the tone, and they did. Our two doubles have been fire all year. They are my heart and soul guys,” Muterspaugh said. “The guys have fed off of them all year.”
A late-season reshuffling fueled their motivation as well. Moving players around the last few matches of the regular season, Muterspaugh held challenge matches before sectional.
Each player had to earn their spot again. They had to want it, Muterspaugh emphasized.
“Sometimes you need a break. I think that break from playing the same spots made a difference,” Muterspaugh said.
Willis, who will move on as a singles player in the state’s individual state tournament with a 13-8 record, didn’t need much to recover from a 5-7 loss in his first set.
“As soon as the second started, I asked him, ‘tell me why you’re here?’ He said, ‘I’m going three,'” Turpin explained. “He definitely turned it around in that second and in the third he did what he needed.”
Willis won the next two sets 6-2, 6-2.
“It’s a little frustrating. We really wanted to get to that final and have another chance at New Pal. I know I did. I wanted to another chance at (Matthew) True because he got me the last time,” Willis said. “But I get to move on and get to do something most people don’t get to do. It’s a great opportunity.”
For the Marauders, tonight is a chance to redeem themselves after losing to New Palestine 5-0 on Sept. 20 and try to prevent the Dragons from a potential sixth straight champions.
“It will be a matchup of contrasting styles. Those guys have great IRC strokes, if they get the ball (racquet level), they are going to take it and put you in a bad place,” Muterspaugh said. “We’re going to try to push you into a corner and get you to the net. We might do headbutts and some elbow smashes. We’re going to have fun doing it.”
Mt. Vernon Tennis Sectional
Mt. Vernon 3, Greenfield-Central 2
No. 1 Singles: Kole Willis (GC) def. Matthew McCullough (MV) 5-7, 6-2, 6-2
No. 2 Singles: Mason Bussel (GC) def. JD Cohee (MV) 6-1, 6-4
No. 3 Singles: Thomas Obergfell (MV) def. Bradley McDowell (GC) 6-3, 6-4
No. 1 Doubles: Brayden Browning/Sam Frye (MV) def. Steven Roland/Collin Hunt (GC) 6-2, 6-2
No. 2 Doubles: Sam McCarty/Peyton Meadors (MV) def. Samuel Galyean/Garrett McKee (GC) 6-1, 6-2
New Palestine 5, Pendleton Heights 0
No. 1 Singles: Matthew True (NP) def. Drew Wilson (PH) 6-0, 6-2
No. 2 Singles: Ben Blachly (NP) def. Walker Stull (PH) 6-3, 6-3
No. 3 Singles: Carson Gavin (NP) def. Kaleb Alumbaugh (PH) 7-6 (7-3), 6-1
No. 1 Doubles: Nick Rusche/Colby Wagoner (NP) def. Seth Moore/Jackson McKinney (PH) 6-0, 6-0
No. 2 Doubles: David Hockett/Dane Reid (NP) def. Evan Smith/Caleb King (PH) 6-1, 6-0