CULVER — Plymouth’s hopes of its first regional tennis title in more than two decades came to a crashing halt at the hands of its bitterest conference rival Wednesday.
The Pilgrims entered the championship round of the Culver Military Academy Regional hoping to reprise an earlier Northern Lakes Conference loss to the Tigers — one of just three losses for Plymouth headed into Wednesday’s regional final — but instead fell in another narrow 3-2 decision.
Still, Plymouth head coach Michael Delp couldn’t fault his team’s effort.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my guys. What can you say? We were the underdogs coming in. We knew that,” he said.
The lineup was new but the outcome was the same for Warsaw, which claimed its first regional since winning a string of three straight between 2005 and 2007.
The Pilgrims won their two match points on the two doubles courts in their last head-to-head with Warsaw but earned its two victories at 1 singles and 1 doubles Wednesday. Senior Matt Flynn and junior Max Holloway combined to beat Warsaw’s revamped 1 doubles lineup of Will Petro and Nikos Schlitt 7-6(3), 6-1 and stay alive in the doubles tournament with Schlitt moving up from the Warsaw JV and Petro slotted down from 2 singles after an injury late in the season forced changes to the Tigers lineup.
Sophomore John Hunter stayed alive in the singles tournament with his comeback win over Sam Rice, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 in a reprisal for an earlier loss in a regular season match back on Sept. 5.
“I’m really happy for John (Hunter) that he gets another chance to play,” said Delp. “He’s worked hard and put the time in. He had lost to Sam (Rice) twice this season before tonight. He earned it.”
The Pilgrims went three sets at 2 doubles, where, again, Warsaw had made some changes prior to the start of the NLC Tournament. Nic Jansen moved down from 1 singles to partner with former JV player Nikos Schlitt, and the duo combined to hand Plymouth junior Ryan Johnson and sophomore Braydon Davidson the narrowest of defeats, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3. Sophomore 3 singles player Nate Knapp also went three sets in his match, ultimately falling to Evan Miller, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2.
With Johnson’s and Davidson’s first-set win at 2 doubles and Knapp’s first-set victory at 3 singles, as well as Flynn’s and Holloway’s 7-3 tiebreaker win in the first set, it looked momentarily like the Pilgrims might get that program-second regional title. When the dust settled, there were some heated exchanges at the tail end of a narrow decision between bitter conference foes.
“We wanted to throw the first punch and put the pressure on them and we did. We came out with the right mindset,” said Delp of his team’s fast start.
“It was two competitive teams and two competitive coaches going at it tonight.”
The Pilgrims close with a sterling record of 16-4 while Warsaw advances to play Penn at the Culver Academies Semistate Saturday.
Meanwhile Wednesday, North Judson’s Denis Stepanov moved on in the individual singles tournament with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Whitko’s Tyler Baugher, while John Glenn’s Andrew McDonald and Evan Rhodes succumbed in two close sets with Peru’s Kreighton Ray and Austin Finicle, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.
• WARSAW 3, PLYMOUTH 2
At Culver Regional championship
Singles: 1. John Hunter (P) beat Sam Rice, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2; 2. Kyle Wettschurack (W) beat John Gerard, 7-5, 6-2; 3. Evan Miller (W) beat Nate Knapp, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2.
Doubles: 1. Matt Flynn-Max Holloway (P) beat Will Petro-Nikos Schlitt, 7-6 (7-3), 6-1; 2. Nic Jansen-Caleb Ray (W) beat Ryan Johnson-Braydon Davidson, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3.
Singles: Denis Stepanov (North Judson) beat Tyler Baugher (Whitko), 6-2, 6-3.
Doubles: Kreighton Ray-Austin Finicle (Peru) beat Evan Rhodes-Andrew McDonald (John Glenn), 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.