CULVER – The Warsaw boys tennis team put forth an excellent effort Tuesday night.
The game Tigers left it all on the court.
In the end, however, it was still not enough to earn a regional win.
A powerful Plymouth squad ended the Tigers’ season with a 3-2 victory in a semifinal showdown of rivals that went late into the night at Culver Academies.
The Pilgrims, who lost to Warsaw 3-2 in the regional final a year ago, earn a spot back at the Academies Wednesday night to play the hosts at 5 p.m. for the regional title. The winner advances to the semi state back at Culver Academies Saturday at 10 a.m. to face the winner of the Munster Regional.
Plymouth and Warsaw went toe-to-toe in a true clash of heavyweight programs in a match moved indoors to the Academies’ gorgeous facility after thunderstorms rolled through the area.
The pair of Northern Lakes Conference rivals had to wait for the Academy to top Peru 5-0 in the first semifinal match Tuesday night.
The Pilgrims and Tigers then played a classic match that was not finished until more than three hours of competition and some great tennis on all five courts.
Plymouth had defeated Warsaw 4-1 back on Sept. 4 in their regular-season meeting and then won three head-to-head match ups at No. 1 and 2 singles and No. 2 doubles in the finals of the NLC Tournament on Sept. 27 to win the league tourney title to go with the regular season championship.
The Pilgrims had the same lineup for regional play Tuesday night as in the regular-season NLC match with Warsaw. The Tigers had altered their lineup at No. 3 singles and both doubles spots since that loss.
“Plymouth is a very good team with a great record and there is a reason for that,” said Warsaw coach Rick Orban. “To come here tonight and play the way we did, I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.
“Our guys came here to play and you can’t ask for more than that. Honestly, Plymouth is the better team, but we came close. It really could have gone either way tonight.”
Plymouth took a 1-0 lead as its No. 1 doubles team of seniors Ryan Johnson and Max Holloway topped senior Cole Baker and junior Christopher Herendeen 6-2, 6-0.
The Pilgrims made it 2-0 when junior Nate Knapp walked off the No. 3 singles court with a 6-4, 6-3 win over senior Caleb Ray.
Things then got very interesting.
Warsaw senior Sam Rice found his game big time Tuesday night. The No. 1 player came out smoking, rolling to a 6-0 first set win over junior John Hunter, who he had lost to twice this season. Hunter, a savvy and smart player, regrouped in the second set to lead 6-5. Rice showed his mettle though by coming back for a 7-6 (7-4) win to close out the match.
“This feels good and is beyond gratifying,” said Rice. “To finally come out strong and keep it together the whole match feels good. I played at a level tonight that I was playing at coming into this season.
“All season I’ve been missing my game. In my losses, I’ve played not to lose. Tonight I finally realized I have to play my game. John is a great player and it’s always a battle with him. I just wanted to attack and stay strong mentally. My confidence is back now that I had lost all season.”
The Pilgrims then got the clinching point at No. 2 doubles. The team of sophomore Nick Felke and junior Braydon Davidson rallied to edge sophomores David Homme and Justin Stout in a three-set classic. The Pilgrims won the match 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Warsaw was up 5-4 in the final set before Plymouth got a break and then Felke served out the 2:30 minute match.
The final match saw Warsaw senior Nic Jansen outlast sophomore John Gerard 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6) at No. 2 singles.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Sam,” Orban said. “He’s played his best tennis of the year the last week. He’s got incredible confidence right now. We looked at each other after practice Monday and said he was going to win tonight. He just came out and dominated that first set and that was huge.
“Nic just never gives up. He is so tough. He’s got huge blisters on his feet and he just does not quit.
“Our No. 2 doubles showed a lot of heart and guts tonight. I’m extremely pleased with them. To hang in there the way they did, I’m extremely proud of them.
“Caleb played their guy so much tougher tonight. Plymouth’s No. 1 doubles team is extremely good.”
Plymouth moves on with a 16-1 record. Warsaw finishes the year at 9-7. Culver Academies is now 11-7, while Peru finishes at 15-6.