By Mike Deak
NAPPANEE – As the cooler air pushed across the baseball field into the NorthWood Tennis Complex, it served as a reminder that tournament season is just around the corner. As NorthWood and Warsaw traded ground strokes through the brisk Canadian-kissed breeze, urgency slowly crept into a 4-1 result in favor of the Panthers over the Tigers.
Both NorthWood and Warsaw are trying to work themselves into position for the Northern Lakes Conference tournament which starts next Wednesday. Part of that alignment included Thursday’s matchup, where three of the five courts needed three sets to settle matters.
One that didn’t need long was at No. 1, where NorthWood’s Ben Vincent continued to run undefeated in NLC play. Hayden Anderson had played well earlier in the week, including a straight setter over Wawasee, but Vincent rolled, two and one, in a match that lasted just shy of 34 minutes.
“When you have a phenomenal season like he did last year, you don’t just come in here and not have a target on your back,” said NorthWood head coach Tif Schwartz of Vincent, who as a junior was 25-0 in dual matches, and owner of back-to-back individual NLC titles. “It doesn’t matter if it’s non-conference or NLC, you have a target no matter who you are playing, and he’s handled that pressure well. He’s played a little down at times this year, and got beat a couple times, but tonight he looked excellent.”
A chatty one doubles court had hosts Gage Gongwer and Treyton Martin score a 6-4, 6-2 win over Michael Ray and Cole Rhodes, but several of the rallies had Warsaw putting shots into the netting after keeping plays alive with quality returns to start.
Both Brady Chupp at No. 2 and Isaac Roberts at No. 3 lost their first sets, only to return with straights to clinch courts, and eventually, the NorthWood team point.
Quinn Martin pinned down a 6-3 first set over Chupp, but a return by Chupp in the second flipped a 6-3 to the home side, and Chupp continued the measure with a 6-3 clincher. Much the same for Roberts, who dropped a 6-1 first set to Jack Reed, but came back to score a 6-4, 6-1 finish to earn the point.
In the final varsity court in action, Tristan Anderson and Zach Nicholas looked perhaps more crisp later in the match than at the start. Serving troubles for Anderson early on changed to a more consistent approach as the match waged on, and Nicholas’ clever finishes at the net helped the Tiger duo to a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 two doubles winner over Brad Demitruk and Chaz Yoder.
“We had two singles, one and two doubles both were sitting at two or three in the conference, so wins tonight and a win at Wawasee would give them a seed,” Schwartz said of her lineup in prep for the NLC tourney. “The loss at two doubles still was a good match. Good play on both sides and that’s what you want to see heading into a tournament atmosphere.”
NorthWood and Warsaw both conclude NLC play Monday, the Panthers at Wawasee and the Tigers at Concord. Prior to that, NorthWood will take on Fairfield Friday afternoon.