CULVER – The Warsaw boys tennis team played like a seasoned squad at crunch time Wednesday night.
The Tigers had to in order to claim a regional championship.
Warsaw dug down deep to sideline conference rival Plymouth 3-2 in the finale of the Culver Academies Regional at the Gable Tennis Center.
The Tigers won the regional, but there was no love lost in the testy, contentious clash of Northern Lakes Conference foes.
Warsaw earns the program’s ninth overall regional title and the first since 2007.
The Tigers (14-5) also earn the right to return to Culver Academies Saturday to face No. 19 Penn (20-3) in a one-match semi state showdown at 10 a.m. The winner Saturday advances to the quarterfinals of the two-day State Finals on Oct. 18 at Fishers High School.
Penn defeated No. 21 South Bend St. Joseph 3-2 Wednesday night to win the Portage Regional title.
The Tigers lost 4-1 to Penn at home on Sept. 16.
Warsaw showed plenty of resolve to keep its’ focus in rallying past the Pilgrims. The NLC champion Tigers had beaten Plymouth 3-2 back on Sept.5, albeit with a different lineup.
The time around, it was a slow start that almost cost the Tigers. Plymouth came out strong on all five courts before Warsaw regrouped.
The back-and-forth tussle had plenty of outstanding tennis by both teams.
The nip-and-tuck affair, unfortunately, also had an upset Warsaw head coach Rick Orban exchanging something other than pleasantries with a Plymouth assistant coach before it was all said and done.
“It’s really a shame,” responded Orban about the off the court noise. “It’s a rivalry, but it doesn’t need to go that far. You should let the kids decide it on the court. This is two years in a row that their assistant coach has started something.
“It was typical Warsaw-Plymouth match. We knew Plymouth would fight tooth-and-nail and they did. We were tentative and nervous at the start and I’m proud we overcame that. We were able to focus even with the other stuff that was going on.”
Senior standout Kyle Wettschurack gave Warsaw its’ first point. Wettschurack took care of freshman John Gerard in workmanlike fashion 7-5, 6-2 at No. 2 singles.
The Tigers got clutch performances from Evan Miller at No. 3 singles and the doubles duo of Caleb Ray and Nic Jansen at No. 2 to get the hard-earned win.
Miller, one of four seniors in the Tiger lineup, dropped his first set -3 to sophomore Nate Knapp. An obviously angry Miller then throttled Knapp 6-0, 6-2 in the final two sets.
The pair of juniors Ray and Jansen lost 7-5 to junior Ryan Johnson and sophomore Braydon Davidson in their first set. They responded, after an emphatic talk from Orban, to clinch the team victory by winning the final two sets 6-4, 6-3.
“I think our guys, especially our seniors knowing this could be their last match were nervous,” Orban said. “Kyle had a tough first set and then he pulled it together.
“Evan lost that first set and it affected our whole team. He was just nervous to start because he is so much better than that kid.
“I had a heart-to-heart with Caleb and Nic. They responded extremely well and then played the kind of tennis that they are capable of.”
The always confident Orban, whose team lost 4-1 to Culver Academies in the regional final last year, did not lost his faith in his team despite plenty of anxious moments.
“I always believed tonight that we would win at two and three singles and two doubles,” said Orban. “We were just more solid at all those positions.”
Plymouth took a 1-0 lead in the match as Matt Flynn, the lone senior in the lineup, and junior Max Holloway topped seniors Nikos Schlitt and Will Petro 7-6 (7-3), 6-1 at No. 1 doubles.
The Pilgrims will still have game sophomore John Hunter in the state tournament series. Hunter rallied to defeat junior Sam Rice 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 at No. 1 singles to advance in the individual portion of the tourney. The match took 2:13 to complete. Hunter had lost twice to Rice earlier this season.
“Hunter played a heck of a match,” said Orban.
Plymouth coach Michael Delp knew his gritty team had put up some kind of effort.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Delp. “We wanted to come out and throw the first punch and put the pressure on them and we did. We came out in the right mindset. We were the underdogs and we knew it.
“I think the experience had a factor in it when you look at the time played. We have guys who have been playing for a year or two in some instances and Warsaw has guys that have been playing for a lot longer.”
Delp downplayed the “stuff” going on outside the courts.
“Two competitive teams and two competitive coaches,” said Delp.
Plymouth, which was seeking its’ second regional title (their lone one came in 1992), finishes 16-4.