FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind. — With two previous Tri-Eastern Conference losses for Northeastern, there was a little bit of hype missing entering Wednesday’s conference finale against long-time rival Centerville.
In the past five years, the Wayne County rivals have met with the top spot in the TEC on the line as Centerville and Northeastern have combined for the last 15 conference championships.
But what was lacking in buildup was made up for with thrilling matches at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles.
Centerville’s Craig Lair finally outlasted Northeastern’s Austin Kenworthy 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) at No. 1 singles, completing a 4-1 victory that moved the Bulldogs to 6-0 in the TEC.
“He was very athletic and I just stuck with my game and tried to get as many things back as I could,” Lair said. “My serve was very important and I just couldn’t give away points like I had in the past, so that was something I thought I did better.”
Minutes earlier, Centerville’s Skyler Benedict and Blake Shook had come off the courts with a 7-5, 6-3 win at No. 1 doubles, and with Northeastern’s Michael McDaniel and Ryan Wogoman winning 6-2, 6-2 at No. 2 doubles, it was clear Northeastern (7-6, 4-3) is as much a threat as anyone entering this weekend’s TEC tournament in Fountain City.
“They have really good athletes and they’re full of seniors, so they have the experience with the winning program, they know what that’s like, so I was concerned with that,” Centerville coach Randy Ecker said.
“I for sure thought they’d have a shot at beating us, and I told our guys if we didn’t come prepared to play with high energy, we were going to lose.”
McDaniel and Wogoman are undefeated this season, while Nolan Witte is undefeated for Centerville after winning 6-2, 6-1 at No. 2 singles.
Justyn North won 6-2, 6-2 at No. 3 singles and Centerville has undefeated flights at No. 2 and 3 singles and No. 1 doubles.
Centerville hosts Hagerstown today in the TEC finale for both teams, a father-daughter coaching duel and the Smash Cancer match for the Bulldogs.
Hagerstown is 14-2 overall and 6-0 in the TEC under first-year head coach Courtney Ecker, Randy Ecker’s daughter, while Centerville is 15-1, 6-0.
“She’s been my teacher since I was very little. She still teaches at the elementary,” Lair said of Courtney Ecker.
“I think there’s going to be just an incredible amount of energy, and everyone’s going to be on top of their game, I hope. It’s going to be a battle, like this match was.”
The first round of the TEC tournament is Saturday at Northeastern with the championship flights scheduled for Monday.
“It was close,” Northeastern coach Marc Irwin said. “I was proud of our guys, I thought they all did a good job, they all fought till the very end and we might get to see these guys again this weekend.”
SINGLES– 1. Craig Lair (CEN) def. Austin Kenworthy 6-3, 7-6 (7-4); 2. Nolan Witte (CEN) def. Alex Stiner 6-2, 6-1; 3. Justyn North (CEN) def. Austin Clay 6-2, 6-2.
DOUBLES– 1. Skyler Benedict and Blake Shook (CEN) def. Levi Vick and Nate Reynolds 7-5, 6-3; 2. Michael McDaniel and Ryan Wogoman (NE) def. Bennett Walther and Nathan Cheek 6-2, 6-2.