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Shady Side Academy tennis falls short in PIAA title bid

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 9:48 p.m.

HERSHEY — When Shady Side Academy defeated North Allegheny to win the WPIAL Class AAA boys tennis singles title, it needed three come-from-behind three-set victories to dispatch the Tigers.

Faced with a similar situation against Conestoga in the state championship match, the Indians didn't quite have enough left to put together a comeback to end the Pioneers' date with history.

In almost a carbon copy of the 2012 championship match between the two, Conestoga split the doubles, then waited out a late Shady Side Academy charge in the top two singles matches before it came away with a 4-1 victory at Hershey Racquet Club. The Pioneers became the first team to win three consecutive Class AAA state championships since the sport was introduced at the state level in 2001.

“I think their doubles were really solid, and we were hoping to maybe get one of the singles,” Shady Side Academy coach Tom Mercer said. “They're just a little too strong, and it was a lot like last year. All year long, we were winning the doubles, and when you don't win that spot, it's tough.”

Shady Side Academy appeared to catch a break earlier in the day when it beat Council Rock North, 3-0, in the semifinals. Top singles player Alok Nimgaonkar, Cooper Kann at No. 3 singles and the No. 2 doubles team of Henry Cohen and Naveen Jain completed their wins so quickly that Eric Grubbs at No. 2 singles and the top doubles tandem of Chris Grubbs and Michael Kann barely completed their first sets in their matches before they were pulled off the court to give them some extra rest and avoid possible injury.

Though it seemed the extra time off would have helped, Shady Side Academy came out slow in its three singles and top doubles match against Conestoga. The Indians quickly dropped the first set in all four and faced an uphill comeback attempt.

“I thought maybe the No. 1 doubles would come back, but they have a lot of experience, and I think they brought their best game,” Mercer said. “They came out firing, and, when they got up on us early, we struggled to get back in the match late, but we were already too far down”

Sewickley Academy made it through to the Class AA semifinals for the third consecutive year, but the Panthers' path to their first championship appearance since 2008 was cut off by Lancaster Country Day in a 3-1 win in the opening match of the day.

“The talent level that they have, especially in the first and second singles positions, is a national-caliber talent, and it's very hard to match up with that,” Sewickley Academy coach Whitney Snyder said. “You can give the best ‘Rocky Balboa' speech, etc., but the talent … I'm just proud of the effort that was given, especially when we're playing a team with that level of talent.”

Lancaster Country Day's top two singles players, Blaise Casselbury and Spencer Rhoads, defeated Colin Kaye and Will Kleeman quickly, but Sewickley Academy made a match of it by taking the No. 2 doubles match and forced a third set in No. 1 doubles. The Panthers' No. 3 singles player, Patrick Dellinger, made things interesting when he fought back from down a set and shrugged off a match point at 5-4 to force a second-set tiebreaker. But Cougars senior Wesley Davis rolled, 7-1, in the tiebreak to close out the match.

Because the match was decided, the two teams agreed to stop the third set in the No. 1 doubles match with Lancaster Country Day leading, 1-0.

“If we were able to win the second-set tiebreaker, all of a sudden, the dynamics of the match change because the doubles match still matters, and some of these kids are seniors, and they're graduating in an hour,” Snyder said. “Then, you have kids thinking that they're in a long match, and they're graduating and how focused can a 17- or 18-year-old kid be, but we just couldn't get to that point.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @KBarnes_Trib.

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