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Franklin Regional boys tennis claims share of section crown

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Doug Gulasy | Murrysville Star
Members of the Franklin Regional boys tennis team celebrate with the Section 1-AAA championship plaque after beating Penn-Trafford, 4-1, on April 24, 2014.

The Franklin Regional boys tennis team watched the last three seasons as local rival Penn-Trafford wrested away control of the section the Panthers used to dominate.

Last week, the Panthers reclaimed the top spot.

Franklin Regional (13-2, 12-2) won a share of the Section 1-AAA championship by virtue of a 4-1 victory over three-time defending champion Penn-Trafford (11-3, 11-3). The Panthers shared the section title with Latrobe, which also finished with a 12-2 section record. The Panthers also beat Latrobe last week by a 3-2 score.

It marks Franklin Regional's first section championship since 2010.

“It's something that has eluded us,” coach Howard Fisher said. “We've had talented teams, but we're in a section with a lot of parity. That's what makes this so special. We didn't run away with the match today; P-T was a very important competitor, and they played extremely well.”

Franklin Regional will open the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs with a home match against Chartiers Valley on Thursday.

The Panthers' victory over Penn-Trafford completed an undefeated second half of section play. The team was 5-2 at midseason, with the losses coming to Latrobe and Penn-Trafford.

“There were a couple changes to the lineup, but more than anything it was just our mental game (improving),” said senior Rohan Hattangady, the team's No. 2 singles player. “At the beginning of the season, we weren't really focused and we didn't really have expectations of going undefeated the whole season. But the second half through we knew we could do it, and especially all the seniors wanted the section title.”

Franklin Regional is also playing in support of two teammates who were stabbed in the April 9 incident at the high school that left 21 people injured. Connor Warwick began the season as a starter at doubles for the Panthers, while Greg Keener plays for the junior varsity team.

In the absence of Warwick and Keener, the Franklin Regional players are wearing shirts with the message of “Pray4Greg” and “Pray4Connor.”

“They can't play, which is so sad,” said senior Alex Sebastian, the Panthers' No. 3 singles player. “It's kind of been motivating, what happened. I think it helped my performance; it was definitely a boost because we were playing for them.”

The Panthers' singles players led the team for much of the season and swept Penn-Trafford's singles players last week. At No. 1 singles, sophomore Rochan Ramesh knocked off Penn-Trafford senior Cullen Price, a four-time WPIAL qualifier, in a match that lasted more than two hours.

“I never thought this would happen right now,” Ramesh said. “I just went out there and played my hardest. I changed my strategy a little bit, which I think helped me win this.”

Fisher said the Panthers' doubles teams also solidified in the second half of the season.

The Panthers competed in the playoffs last season, and the players said they thought their experience could help them in this year's postseason.

“We're going to go in optimistic,” Fisher said. “Obviously, we want to try and do our very best. We realize we're going to be playing the very best teams in southwestern Pennsylvania, but I think we're encouraged by the way we're playing right now and we're willing to do the very best we can. We're hoping for the best. I think we're positively optimistic right now about our first-round match.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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