PLYMOUTH — It’s a cliche among coaches to say that come tournament time you can throw out past results, but it’s a maxim that nevertheless often holds true.
Plymouth’s doubles teams took care of business with a pair of wins in their Northern Lakes Conference Tournament semifinals, but John Gerard and Nate Knapp fell to opponents they had both previously beaten in the semis at 2 and 3 singles, while John Hunter gave conference-unbeaten Josh Garfein of Northridge everything he could handle in a down-to-the-wire three-setter at 1 singles under the lights at the Mary Beth Hunter Tennis Complex in Centennial Park Thursday night.
The result left the outcome of the final NLC standings uncertain with Plymouth, Concord and Warsaw all still battling for top position after finishing in a three-way round robin tie for first in the league headed into the final round of the tourney Saturday at Goshen.
The Pilgrims won first-round matches on all courts at Wednesday’s opener in Centennial Park to advance to the semis at all positions Thursday. With draws opposite opponents they had already beaten on four of those courts, the hosts looked like they might finally be able to put some breathing room between themselves and fellow NLC leaders Concord and Warsaw, but John Gerard stumbled against Goshen’s Austin Stutzman, 6-4, 6-1 and Nate Knapp suffered a 6-2, 6-1 setback to Concord’s Jared Searer at 3 singles to leave the conference crown up for grabs headed into the finals.
“Sometimes it’s tough to play as the hunted. When you beat teams and they’re coming after you and thinking about you kind of non-stop and waiting and you might not have the same mindset that second time that they have,” said Plymouth head tennis coach Michael Delp.
“I think John Gerard and Nate Knapp at 2 and 3 singles got to feel that today. They both had won those matches earlier in the year. They played guys that are older, maybe a little more experienced, and they experienced guys who didn’t let the last result have any effect — if anything they used it to kind of make themselves motivated. You hate to say it’s a disappointment because it is what it is. Our guys battled, and we’ll regroup tomorrow and come out and play a championship Saturday and see what the result is. It’ll be a little tougher now.”
Meanwhile at 1 singles, Hunter gave Garfein a taste of what it means to be on the opposite side of that equation. After falling in straight sets to his Northridge counterpart in round robin play just three days ago, Hunter came out aggressive, handing Garfein a 6-3 first-set loss. Trailing 5-4 in the second set, Hunter broke Garfein’s serve as the two then traded wins on the way to a tiebreaker, but he seemed to hit a wall as he fell 7-4 in the tiebreak to split sets. Hunter went blow-for-blow once more to extend Garfein to 12 games in the rubber set, but he ultimately fell 7-5 to fall into the third place/ fourth place bracket at the tourney.
It wasn’t the result Plymouth wanted, but it would be hard to argue with the play as fans were treated to some extraordinary tennis by the Pilgrim sophomore and Northridge senior in a grueling marathon session under the lights.
“They both brought out the best in each other,” said Delp.”I told the guys at the end John never once played any string of the match where he played nervous or afraid to lose; he played to win. Even to the last point he’s trying to hit winning tennis shots, he moved around like he was confident, so you’re never going to be disappointed with a kid’s effort like that. I’m really proud of John. That could’ve gone either way. A couple big points here or there, and we’re talking different.”
In the best news for Plymouth Thursday, Braydon Davidson and Ryan Johnson combined for a 6-3, 6-2 win over Northridge’s Landon Arnold and Sam Hoover at 2 doubles, while Matt Flynn and Max Holloway defeated Will Petro and Nikos Schlitt 6-3, 7-5 in what may prove to be a key head-to-head with fellow conference frontrunner Warsaw at 1 doubles.
“I think 2 doubles played one of their better matches of the year. They were very quick and very focused and just kind of had a fire and a confidence about them that they didn’t even have two nights ago, so that was a good thing to see,” said Delp. “I thought they played really well.”
Plymouth’s 2 doubles tandem advances opposite Warsaw’s Caleb Ray and Nic Jensen in the championship Saturday, while the Pilgrims’ 1 doubles team will look for a reprisal against NorthWood’s Quinn Stillson and Caleb Yoder, who advanced Thursday as 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 winners over Goshen’s Derick Hostetler and Peter Vukovich in the other semifinal.
“No. 1 doubles, they’ve been playing really well, so it’s been exciting to see what they’re doing,” said NorthWood head coach Tiff Schwartz. “For whatever reason they decide that they’ll play in the first set and then they just let everybody get back in. We keep joking with them that we think they need more court time or they like the fans or something. We’re not sure which it is yet. It’s been working for them. They’ve had a great season, but they’ve got a tough match ahead of them; Plymouth is fired up… I’m excited to see what they can do. They’ve been playing really well, so it’ll be a good match-up.”
“NorthWood is our only loss of the year in conference play at 1 doubles. A real good team. They played us well. We beat Warsaw today to get there, and our guys are playing well so I don’t think there’ll be any need to motivate people that day,” echoed Delp. “As long as we kind of execute and do what we do well I like our chances. I know it’ll be a battle, and I think we will be hungry there.”
Meanwhile for NorthWood Thursday, No. 3 singles player Ryan Menzie defeated Elkhart Memorial’s Juan Pizana 6-1, 6-3 in the consolation match to advance to the fifth place/ sixth place match opposite Wawasee’s Luke Smith Saturday, while Devyn Maugel and Nick Myers pitched a 6-0, 6-0 shutout of Memorial’s Justin Walter and Brett Wilson in the consols at 2 doubles.
The Panthers’ JV squad was able to win their conference tournament largely on the strength of their salvages in the consolation rounds, and Schwartz said it was a lesson for her varsity squad.
“We know when you’re playing in a tournament like this, every position counts and every position where you can get a higher spot counts. They know every match is big. Kind of like how it went with our JV tournament this past weekend. All the guys played really well and at some of the courts where they didn’t get through their first match, they were able to come through and get fifth place, which pushed us up and gave us enough points that we were able to dominate and win that tournament,” she said.
• NORTHERN LAKES CONFERENCE TENNIS TOURNAMENT
No. 1 SINGLES
Winners’ bracket: Josh Garfein (Northridge) d. John Hunter (Plymouth) 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-5; Nick Pollock (Concord) d. Sam Rice (Warsaw) 6-0, 6-3.
Losers’ bracket: Kyler Love (Wawasee) d. Mitchell Keiser (NorthWood) 7-5, 6-1; Hudson Kay (Goshen) d. Brenden Graber (Elkhart Memorial) 6-1, 6-2.
No. 2 SINGLES
Winners’ bracket: Bernardo Cardario (C) d. Kyle Wettachurack (War) 6-2, 6-4; Austin Stutzman (G) d. John Gerard (P) 6-4, 6-1.
Losers’ bracket: Todd Hauser (Waw) d. Triesten Singleton (EM) 1-6, 6-4, 6-1; Austin Schmidt (NR) d. Luke Stump (NW) 6-4, 6-1.
No. 3 SINGLES
Winners’ bracket: Evan Miller (War) d. Luke Rush (G) 6-0, 6-0; Jared Searer (C) d. Nate Knapp (P) 6-2, 6-1.
Losers’ bracket: Ryan Menzie (NW) d. Juan Pizana (EM) 6-1, 6-3; Luke Smith (Waw) d. Aadarsh Patel (NR) 7-6(8-6), 6-1.
No. 1 DOUBLES
Winners’ bracket: Quinn Stillson-Caleb Yoder (NW) d. Derick Hostetler-Peter Vukovich (G) 6-3, 3-6, 6-1; Matt Flynn-Max Holloway (P) d. Will Petro-Nikos Schlitt (War) 6-3, 7-5.
Losers’ bracket: Clay Schnell-Ted Field (NR) d. Chase Myers-Dylan Hauser (Waw) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3; Mitch Boyer-Aaron Allen (C) d. Jon Bailey-Stephen Tefft (EM) 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
No. 2 DOUBLES
Winners’ bracket: Braydon Davidson-Ryan Johnson (P) d. Landon Arnold-Sam Hoover (NR) 6-3, 6-2; Caley Ray-Nic Jansen (War) d. Logan Troyer-Zach Troyer (G) 6-4, 6-0.
Losers’ bracket: Riley Huffer-Mitchell Lozier (C) d. Doug Hapner-Jake Hutchinson (Waw) 6-1, 6-0; Devyn Maugel-Nick Myers (NW) d. Justin Walter-Brett Wilson (EM) 6-0, 6-0.