Shady Side Academy captures PIAA boys tennis title

| Saturday, May 17, 2014, 9:33 p.m.

HERSHEY — There were no pep talks beforehand, nor hand-wringing. Just a quiet confidence.

Facing District 1 power Conestoga for the third consecutive year in the PIAA boys team tennis finals, Shady Side Academy stared down its tormentors and won state gold Saturday at Hershey Racquet Club with a tense 3-2 victory.

Henry Cohen and NaJeen Jain snapped a won a 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 thriller over Conestoga's Ryan Swope and Max Howarth at No. 2 doubles to give the Indians the state title.

Conestoga, the District 1 champ, had beaten Shady Side each of the past two seasons in a similar spot. Cohen and Jain prevented the familiar feeling of past failures from entering “old hat” territory.

“It's a great victory for this team,” Shady Side coach Thomas Mercer said. “We lost to these guys the last two years here. Coming back, we knew we had a good team. Nearly everybody was the same. So we felt we had a good chance.”

First and second singles ended swiftly in Conestoga's favor, tilting the action late toward doubles. Brian Grodecki beat Shady Side's Cooper Kann, 6-1, 6-1, at first singles. Eric Yen bested Derek Chen, 6-2, 6-2, at second singles.

The Indians picked up key wins at third singles and No. 1 doubles to even the match. Eric Grubbs got the Indians on the board with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Mike Blank on the No. 3 singles court, and the duo of Chris Grubbs and Michael Kann followed up with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Conestoga's Steve Yang and Nick Ruth.

That brought full attention to second doubles. Cohen and Jain took the first set before the Pioneers' duo countered with a second-set win. Shady Side's tandem fell behind 1-3 in the final and state title-deciding set before rallying to win five consecutive games and gold in dramatic style. Cohen and Jain beat the same pairing in the same spot in last year's finals loss.

“I think we're just more experienced, stronger. A year makes a big difference,” Mercer said. “I felt good bringing six guys back from last year. At this age, they're going to be bigger and better. I felt good about that.”

Shady Side reached the finals with a 3-1 semifinal win over Council Rock North, also from District 1, earlier Saturday. Conestoga defeated Abington Heights, 3-2, to reach the finals for the third straight season.

The WPIAL's other finalist was Sewickley Academy. The Panthers faced Class AA Wyomissing and dropped a 3-0 decision, officially recorded as 3-2 because they led the last two matches still in play when the verdict was reached. Wyomissing won its third consecutive PIAA crown.

The Spartans swept the singles matches. Andre Fick beat freshman Luke Ross, 6-1, 7-5, in first singles in a match that required a huge comeback by Wyomissing's star in the second stanza to win in straight sets. Fick rallied from 0-4 to take the top court.

Rodrigo Saad handled Sam Sauter, 6-0, 6-2, at second singles to put Wyomissing in the driver's seat. Dan Trifoi brought it home for the District 3 power with a 6-1, 6-4 conquest of Danny McCormick at No. 3 singles.

“You have to give credit to Wyomissing. They are a great program, the defending state champs,” Sewickley coach Whitney Snyder said. “Whoever is going to be playing them has to bring their A-plus game.”

Jeff Dewees is a freelance writer.

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