By David Campbell
For the Daily Journal
Center Grove and Whiteland scored dramatically different styles of wins in the semifinals of the IHSAA boys tennis sectional at Center Grove on Wednesday.
While Whiteland was having its way with Indian Creek in a 5-0 shutout, it took more than two hours for Center Grove to finally put away rival Greenwood in a hard-fought 3-2 win. Three of the matches went the full three sets, with the clincher finishing just after 7 p.m.
The Trojans and Warriors play for the title today.
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“I thought we were fortunate last time (the two teams played). I had every feeling it could be a 3-2 match, and it was,” said Center Grove coach Ivan Smith. “I really wasn’t overconfident. I guess my expectations for the match were accurate.”
Only one of the five matches was a blowout, with Center Grove’s Grant Herron and Mason Runkle beating Greenwood’s Charlie Brooks and Nick Belovic 6-0, 6-0 at No. 2 doubles.
But each of the other four matches could have gone either way.
Center Grove’s Trey Thixton held off Jacob Gray 7-5, 6-3 at No. 1 singles before Greenwood got on the board when Ethan Gray beat Nic Ballesteros 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 at No. 2 singles. The Woodmen tied the match at 2-2 thanks to Grant Bryant’s 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 win against J.T. Embrey at No. 3 singles.
All that was left was No. 1 doubles, which ebbed and flowed like a championship boxing match. With fans cheering every point, Center Grove’s Mitch Runkle and Eli Lawyer-Smith overcame a second-set meltdown to win 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4 and clinch the win for the Trojans.
The loss ended a stellar season for Greenwood (14-3). Woodmen coach Jeremy Runge was pleased with the way his squad played in defeat.
“We knew it would be close. I wasn’t sure where we would get points from, but I figured it would be a 3-2 loss or win,” Runge said. “Hats off to Center Grove. They’re a hell of a team. They got the best of us tonight; that’s all there is to it. I’m really, really proud of our guys. Being from a small school, we don’t get a lot of kids coming out, and to go 14-3 with two losses to Center Grove is pretty awesome.”
Whiteland didn’t need nearly as much time to dispatch Indian Creek.
All three singles matches were 6-0, 6-0 sweeps and the Braves managed to win only four games all afternoon.
In singles, Quinten Gillespie defeated Scott Russell at No. 1, Caleb Scott beat Markus Lang at No. 2, and Corey Ullrich knocked off Jake Mitchell at No. 3. In doubles, Mason Laugle and Garrison Pelfree beat Kyle Lime and Cody Hart 6-0, 6-2 at No. 1, and Lane Stephenson and Travis Robinson defeated Hunter Ankney and Dustin Hamblen 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2.
“I was proud of the boys tonight,” Whiteland coach Mike Gillespie said. “They came out, were very focused, and it’s easy to not be focused on a night like this, but they did it.”