Portland took a step forward in the CAAC White boys tennis title race with a decisive 7-1 win over Williamston in the first league dual match for both teams on Monday night.
But the Hornets’ only win was a big one, as Michael Sienko rallied back from a set down to defeat Chance Conley in a rematch of last year’s Division 4 state singles championship match, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Sienko has played in the final match of the state meet all three years he has played varsity tennis, winning the second-singles flight as a freshman and finishing as the state runner-up in first singles as a sophomore and junior .
And he has his sights firmly set on a fourth trip to the last match of the season.
“It’s just a win, just a dual match,” Sienko said. “Last year I beat him in the dual match and lost in the state finals, so all that really matters to me is states.”
Conley won the state singles title with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Sienko last October, and looked to be on the way to a repeat performance in this one, using a strong serve to jump out to a 4-1 lead and finish off the first set 6-3.
Suddenly, the wheels came off for Conley. Trailing 2-1 in the second set but on serve, Conley had an ace to take a 40-15 lead in the game. When Sienko fought back to level the score at deuce and then finish the service break on Conley’s badly mis-hit overhead, Conley’s frustration visibly boiled over. He never really regained his composure for the rest of the match.
Conley double-faulted on set point, and suffered through several unforced errors in the third set before falling for the first time in any match this season.
“It always comes down to who’s on that day and who’s not,” Portland coach Jim Niebling said. “Chance let his inner demons get the better of him today, but Mikey played very well, don’t take anything away from him. He played extremely well.”
Sienko said he didn’t change his style of play going into the match, or when Conley’s emotions took over.
“I just try to play my game, work the points and try not to let what he’s doing bother me,” he said. “If I worry about him, it really doesn’t help at all. You know when he’s — feeling it, I guess — and once you get him down, it’s good.”
Portland won every other flight in the match, five of them in straight sets, two of those without conceding a single game. Despite the loss in the top flight, Niebling said the team win was an important one in perhaps the state’s strongest Division 4 tennis league.
“This is a very competitive league, and these two teams are very competitive,” Niebling said. “It was extremely respectful, but both teams want to get each other every single year.”