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A landmark win

September 28, 2018

La PORTE — New Prairie’s boys tennis team had never hoisted the sectional trophy.

Until Thursday night.

The Cougars stormed back from early deficits at three positions against Michigan City, turning a close contest into a somewhat comfortable win as they defeated the county foe Wolves 5-0 in the La Porte Sectional final at the LeRoy Courts in Kesling Park.

It’s the school’s first tennis sectional title, boys or girls, in history, which includes 45 years of boys tennis.

“I’m very happy about that,” New Prairie coach Joel Hostetler said. “I’m so proud of my team.”

Hostetler’s team rallied from early holes at three spots.

New Prairie’s Josh Ferrell battled back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set at No. 2 singles, and Colten Kitchen and Isaac Kuczmanski rallied from a 4-1 hole in the opening set at No. 2 doubles. Nick Boyd erased a 3-1 hole in the opening set at No. 1 singles. The comebacks set the stage for a New Prairie sweep and a coveted sectional championship.

“I felt really excited that we were going to move on,” Cougars No. 3 singles player Wrigley Hemphill said. “And I felt really happy we all made it as a team, and we tried hard this year to accomplish our goals.”

New Prairie (19-3) has already achieved the school record for wins. City (8-10), meanwhile, finishes its season one step shy of a title.

“Congratulations to New Prairie,” Wolves coach Mike Tsugawa said. “Joel Hostetler is really one of the good guys of tennis and his program and team certainly deserve to win.

“For 45 minutes, we played great tennis. We were up on three courts and we were real competitive at No. 1 doubles for a while. The tennis gods turned off the tennis at the wrong time. I don’t know what the heck happened, but they just turned the faucet off.”

The Cougars’ Levi Britton and Joe Henning downed Tommy Komay and Christoph Walker 6-3, 6-0 at No. 1 doubles, and Hemphill cruised over Connor Reynolds 6-0, 6-2 at No. 3 singles. Kitchen and Kuczmanski bested John Bruning and Bohdan Walker 6-4, 6-2 at No. 2 doubles. That clinched the crown for N.P.

“We had some goals at the beginning of the year, and this was one of them,” Hostetler said. “We hit all of our goals, which was to win both of our tournaments, and to win our division in the NIC, which we did. And then, to win the sectional, which is quite a goal. I’m very happy for them. They all worked really hard, and all played very well both nights.”

At No. 2 singles, Ferrell bested City’s Danny Walker Jr. 7-6 (2), 7-5, while Boyd topped City’s Devon Stromer 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 at No. 1 singles.

Hemphill jumped ahead 3-0 quickly in the opening set at No. 3, and rolled from there. At No. 1, Boyd trailed 3-1 in the first set, but cut the margin to 5-4 and won the next three games to claim the set 7-5 after holding serve. Ferrell, down 4-1 in his first set, stormed back, trimming the margin to 5-4, then 6-5. He tied it at 6, and followed by capturing a tiebreaker 7-2 to seal the set.

At No. 2 doubles, Kitchen and Kuczmanski were staring at a 4-1 hole in the first set. They rallied, pulling within 4-3 before claiming the last three games to win that set 6-4. The Cougars duo then responded after falling behind 2-1 in the second set to capture the set and match, 6-2.

“They were down 4-1 at almost all those three courts,” Hostetler said. “Those were great comebacks.”

Hostetler had praise all around for his squad.

“Wrigley has continued to improve,” he said. “Josh actually made a really nice comeback from that tough match Wednesday to beat a kid who just beat him a month ago in our invitational. Levi and Joe played solid after getting down. Then, at No. 2 doubles, who’s really struggled because we’ve played some tough teams lately, Penn and St. Joe. But they made a nice comeback this week. And Nick played really well, too.”

City says goodbye to four seniors, Stromer, Danny Walker Jr., Komay and Christoph Walker.

“The four seniors who played their last high school match, I couldn’t ask more of them,” Tsugawa said. “I couldn’t be prouder of them. They’ve been an amazing core of people since they were freshmen.”

New Prairie will face Chesterton in a La Porte Regional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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