FORTVILLE — In a span of 11 minutes, Mt. Vernon’s tennis season went from on life support to eyes wide open.
With three straight victories, the Marauders erased a 2-0 deficit against New Palestine to claim a sectional championship Friday.
The title battle began at 5 p.m. and, by 6:15, the Dragons were in control. Following straight-set wins by the No. 1 doubles team of Kylar Litteral and Kara Miller and Emily Kiefer at No. 3 singles, a victory at any of the other three positions would have given NP a second straight sectional crown.
But, MV’s Allie Schafer turned back Nicole Beaty at No. 1 singles, 6-1, 7-5, after Beaty jumped ahead 5-4 in the second set, threatening to extend the fight in their personal rubber match.
Schafer beat Beaty in the Hancock County Tourney April 25, but Beaty got revenge May 12 in a regular season affair. Both matches went three sets.
Friday, Schafer closed out the two-setter at 6:51. From there, MV moved quickly. At 6:53, Addison Eads and Cassie York completed a 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) victory at No. 2 doubles. And, at 7:02, 11 minutes after Schafer put MV on the board, Sarah Jones turned back NP’s Kristi LeBeau 6-3, 6-4, at No. 2 singles to give the Marauders the title.
“It was a wild ride,” MV coach Gabe Muterspaugh said. “I think our most important of what we needed to get was Allie Schafer. That was huge.”
The team triumph marked Mt. Vernon’s first sweep of the county and sectional trophies since 2010. New Palestine captured both championships that are so important to the rivalry last season, but fell in the county tourney by a 27-21 score in the multi-team format in April.
For just about as long as anyone can remember, the Mt. Vernon-New Palestine tennis bouts have been thrillers, often by 3-2 counts. And since 2008, either MV or the Dragons have won the county and sectional titles.
Friday, New Palestine was visibly and understandably distraught following the defeat.
“We had a shot at all five positions,” New Palestine coach Chris Hardin said. “Our 1 doubles did a great job of setting the pace for us. They lost the first three games, then they went 12 straight. Followed that up with the 3 singles win.
“The other positions, we were playing a little tight. I was hoping we could fight through a second set and flip one of those and making it three sets. But just too much adversity.”
Litteral and Miller improved to 20-2 on the season and stayed alive in the state tourney by virtue of finishing the sectional undefeated. Their next opponent is to be determined.
Mt. Vernon will face the winner of the Lawrence North Sectional in the regional semifinals at North Central on Tuesday.
Hardin lamented that injuries kept his squad from representing Hancock County at North Central.
“We maybe played one match all season with our lineup intact,” he said. “We hadn’t played any matches 100 percent. We had tennis elbow tonight, we had a pulled muscle that we were trying to fight through at a different position.
“And I’m not trying to make excuses, it’s just the fact that we had a girl that was playing No. 2 singles that was playing JV for us (earlier in the season). She’s getting a varsity letter because she’s played so many varsity matches. She played every single position that we had at varsity level at one point or another during the season.”
New Palestine’s other win Friday was from Emily Kiefer at No. 3 singles. The senior’s victory gave New Palestine the 2-0 edge.
Muterspaugh wasn’t shocked at the early deficit.
“We knew our strengths,” he said. “We knew New Pal was extremely strong at the 1 doubles and with Kiefer, she’s had a solid year and the 3 spot, and we’ve got a brand new girl there this year.”
Including the county tourney win, Mt. Vernon bested the Dragons in three rivalry showdowns this season. Muterspaugh was proud not merely of the wins, but of the manner in which they were accomplished.
In MV’s 3-2 regular season victory, for example, Schafer fell at No. 1 singles, but Maddie Walrod and Molly Laughlin beat Litteral and Miller, giving the Dragons’ top duo only their second loss of the season.
“A total team effort,” he said. “We won at different spots each and every time we played them, whether it was county or during the season or tonight. Our girls, I can’t say enough. Hearts of champions.
“It’s pretty awesome. I’m a little overwhelmed right now.”
Tennis sectional championship results, Friday at MV.
No. 1 singles: Schafer (MV) def. Beaty (NP), 6-1, 7-5
No. 2 singles: Jones (MV) def. LeBeau (NP), 6-3, 6-4
No. 3 singles: Kiefer (NP) def. Eberhard (MV), 6-4, 6-2
No. 1 doubles: Litteral and Miller (NP) def. Laughlin and Walrod (MV), 6-3, 6-0
No. 2 doubles: Eads and York (MV) def. Hardebeck and Hudson (NP), 6-4, 7-6 (7-3)