Hinsdale Central tunes up with narrow Pitchford win
If the race to lift the team trophy at the prestigious Tom Pitchford 32-team invite is any indication of what's to come in four weeks, well, this year's boys tennis state tournament should be a dandy.
Just as it appeared Hinsdale Central's hopes for defending its title were beginning to fade late Saturday afternoon, the Red Devils' No. 1 doubles team of Lope Adelakun and Michael Czlonka came to the rescue with a win in their third-place match against Deerfield to lift Central 1 point clear of Glenbrook North to capture to the top prize at tournament host Hersey in Arlington Heights.
The victory gave Central 62 overall points. Hinsdale Central swept both flights of doubles in impressive fashion, while the reigning state champions used an individual title from Martin Joyce at No. 2 singles to fuel its effort.
Lyons Township, led by No. 1 singles winner Alex Ross, earned third-place honors with 51 points, followed by Lake Forest and Highland Park (46 apiece) and Stevenson (44).
New Trier (41) finished fifth. Downers Grove South, led by Christian San Andres (24-2), was ninth overall with 40 points, while Barrington excelled on the second day of play, collecting 33 points for ninth place.
"We haven't had the same lineup once this season, so it turned out to be a very good two days of tennis for us," said Stevenson coach Tom Stanhope, who received a solid effort from his No. 2 team of Benjamin Bush/Josh Cheng. They rebounded after a disappointing semifinal defeat to New Trier to upend Highland Park Brenden Lew/John Raab and secure a third-place trophy, and the Patriots' No. 1 team of Ryan Harvey/Adam Maryniuk finished fifth.
The story of the day was at singles, where a sensational field at No. 1 played extraordinary tennis from the very beginning as tournament officials put the four quarterfinals on the courts under clear skies and an unusually warm day in early May.
The best of the four was Libertyville's Ben VanDixhorn against Highland Park sophomore Jacob Edelchik.
VanDixhorn previaled in 3 sets to set up a semifinal against Ross.
"Jacob is a very good player, and I wasn't at my best in the first two, three games," said the Northwestern-bound VanDixhorn. "But despite that, I felt confident in my game, so I knew I could hang in there long enough at the start before getting into my game."
The first set with Ross was superb, with each point fought as if it would decide the state championship.
"Ben is a great player and someone I know very well from the USTA, so I knew I needed to be at my best and wait for an opening -- and it came late in that first set," said Ross, who will play at Vanderbilt next fall.
VanDixhorn broke the Lyons senior to pull even at 3-3, but Ross was able to break back.
"I gave away a game with three double-faults to make it 5-5," said Ross, "but I broke him again. So those were the two key turning points in that match."
Ross won the tie-breaker, then the second set to advance into the final to meet defending state champion Eddie Grabill of Hinsdale Central. Ross won in straight sets, which will likely help him secure a 1-2 seed from state the tournament committee later this month.
VanDixhorn earned a third-place trophy after Brice Polender took an injury default following a three-set loss to Grabill in his semifinal.
Ross' younger brother Gianni, who was away playing in a Davis Cup tournament, might make a case for a 3-4 seed, with Grabill and Joyce, the 2013 state champion, grabbing the other two spots. That would make it an all-Hinsdale Central, all-LT top four when the tourney commences on the last Thursday of this month.
San Andres and Glenbrook North sophomore Nick Marino thrilled the crowd with their 3-hour, 13-minute semifinal, won by the Mustangs junior in three sets.
This semifinal was a heavyweight epic, with nearly 80 percent of the points decided by long baseline rallies as both players were content to stay back, whipping well-paced (and well-placed) forehands.
"It was an epic, but one that was so stressful to watch as a coach, and one where each player gave so much of themselves during those three hours of tennis," said Downers Grove South assistant Ram Natarajan, who watched San Andres never waver despite plenty of brilliant shots from Marino, a state qualifier last season at doubles for Glenbrook North.
"I don't think either one of us had much left late in the match," said San Andres, "but coach told me throughout to keep my feet moving and to concentrate on just the one point I was playing for. So I never gave up for a second until it was finally over."
Despite his marathon against Marino, the Mustangs' No. 2 came back to play with plenty of spirit and energy in his final with Martin Joyce, before falling in straight sets.
"What a great effort from a great kid," Natarajan said. "What he does so well is to adjust and to have the ability to turn his play up when he needs to, and he did just that against a quality player like Nick to win that unbelievable semifinal."
John Roncone's team from Barrington turned things around on the second day of the tournament to end its stay at the 32 on a high note.
Broncos senior Ishaan Jaglan, who impressed after his opener on Friday with Alex Ross, bounced back from that defeat to win his next four, including a straight-sets victory over Kobi Phillips of Belleville East to win the consolation crown at No. 1 singles.
"I was real pleased with my match against Alex," Jaglan said. "It showed I could play with players of that level, and I tried to carry that performance over and into my matches today. To finish as consolation champ is a nice accomplishment for me, and the team."
Barrington's Mohammed Walji would join Jaglan as a consolation champion, completing a splendid tournament for the Broncos' No. 2.
"Mohammed came back from being down (1-5) against Naperville Central (Mark Polowczak) this morning to win, so he showed us a lot just from that match alone," said Roncone.
The Broncos coach was also thrilled with what he saw from his No. 1 team of Scott Apmann/Matt Mulligan. They rebounded after slipping up in their opener on Friday against Belleville East to maneuver through the consolation bracket and give the Broncos its third title.
"Now we want to build from our success here, work on getting better, then prepare for the MSL tournament in two weeks, and sectionals the week after, which we feel we have a good chance of winning if we can play the way we did these past two days," said Roncone.
The fiercely contested results at doubles, particularly at No. 1, should influence how the top eight will finally come together when the committee seeds the state tournament.
Glenbrook North's David Zakhadin/Miguel Perez dominated the field, including wins over Hinsdale Central's Adelakun/Czlonka in the semifinals. The Spartans pair later rolled against Lake Forest John Frauenheim/Jordon O'Kelly), who'd advanced after outlasting Deerfield's Chris Casati/Niko Wasilewicz in three sets.
The Warriors sent Central Suburban League rivals Max Gordon/David Aizenberg of Highland Park into the consolation bracket with a 6-3, 5-7, 6-1 victory in the quarterfinals.