An unexpected change of venue couldn’t slow the momentum Center Grove boys tennis is experiencing of late.
The 21st-ranked Trojans blanked Shelbyville 5-0 on Wednesday to claim the program’s first regional since 2014. Due to the threat of rain, the final was moved from Center Grove to the indoor tennis facility at the University of Indianapolis.
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“It was a little bit of an adjustment, but we all like playing indoors because the ball travels faster, and we’re used to playing here in the winter,” said JT Embrey, who plays No. 3 singles for Center Grove.
“It was good to get over the hump by finally getting out of sectional. And then these last two matches, I think we’ve really just played solid. We just need to do that on Saturday. Play our best.”
The Trojans (13-10) host a semistate at noon Saturday. They’ll face No. 5 Park Tudor, a seven-time state champion which downed the Trojans earlier this season, 4-1.
Every one of Wednesday’s wins against the Golden Bears was straight-set dominance.
Junior Trey Thixton scored a 6-1, 6-2 decision against Evan Phares in No. 1 singles, while No. 2 singles player Nic Ballesteros defeated Shelby’s Luke Foltz, 6-1, 6-3. Embrey took care of business against Bryce Asher, 6-1, 6-1.
Center Grove’s top doubles tandem of Eli Lawyer-Smith and Mitch Runkle were impressive once again by downing Luke Asher and Conner Phelps, 6-2, 6-0. Grant Herron and Mason Runkle teamed to prevail in the second doubles match, 6-0, 6-1.
Mitch Runkle explains what makes his tennis union with Lawyer-Smith, the lone senior in the Trojans’ line-up, as successful as it’s been.
Lawyer-Smith, who is built like a football linebacker, is the power to Runkle’s finesse.
“Off the court we’re really good friends. We seem to work well together,” Runkle said. “He does things well on the court that I don’t do well. He’s really good at putting the ball away.”
Before the season began, Center Grove coach Ivan Smith wasn’t sure if his 41st Trojans squad had what it took to flourish in the postseason. It now finds itself two victories from recording the program’s 12th semistate title.
“I thought it was doable, but it wasn’t a given. Even though we had players back, I didn’t know how they would react,” Smith said. “It seemed every team on our schedule had just as many people coming back as we did.
“Tonight I was concerned with the change of venues and maybe losing a little bit of focus. But I thought everyone started out really strong.”