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Panthers repeat as boys tennis sectional champions

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Knightstown No. 2 singles player Cooper Davis gets ready to return a shot to New Castle’s Josh Martin during Friday evening’s championship match of the New Castle boys tennis sectional. Davis defeated Martin 6-1, 6-3 and the Panthers beat the host Trojans 4-1 to repeat as sectional champions.
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Knightstown No. 1 singles player Garrett Dalton serves to New Castle’s AJ Abrams during Friday evening’s championship match of the New Castle boys tennis sectional. Dalton defeated Abrams 6-1, 6-1 and the Panthers repeated as sectional champions with a 4-1 victory over the host Trojans.
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Players and coaches of the Knightstown High School boys tennis team are all smiles as they pose with the trophy and hold up fingers indicating they’re No. 1 after defeating host New Castle 4-1 Friday evening to repeat as champions of the New Castle boys tennis sectional. The Panthers improved to 19-2 for the season and play Batesville in today’s Richmond regional semifinals.
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New Castle freshman No. 3 singles player Trent Alfrey returns a shot to Knightstown’s Brady Howell during Friday evening’s championship match of the New Castle boys tennis sectional. Alfrey bested Howell 6-1, 6-2 for the host Trojans’ lone point in the match as they fell to the defending champion Panthers 4-1.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

Coming into this season, the Knightstown High School boys tennis team had to replace five graduated seniors from the 2018 team who finished undefeated in the regular season and won the New Castle sectional championship.

The Panthers did a good job in replacing that quintet who picked up their diplomas last spring, went 16-2 in the regular season, and swept past three opponents by identical 4-1 team scores to repeat as sectional champions Friday evening on the New Castle High School tennis courts.

"Given we had lost five seniors who started or played a lot for us last year, what this year's team has done is remarkable," Knightstown Coach Steve Dalton said after the match. "This team and these players have worked really hard since late last May and all through the summer to prepare for this season, and I'm really proud of them for what they have accomplished. Much of what they have done has really surprised me in a good way."

Their victim in the championship match was host New Castle, who was hoping to return to the section throne room after a year's absence.

"We had a young team with only two players returning who had varsity experience from last year," New Castle Coach Curt Huntley said afterward. "We improved a lot over the season against a tough schedule. We have some things to work on to get better, and we'll fix them."

Four Knightstown players emerged from the sectional undefeated, and they again led the Panthers in Friday's title victory over the host Trojans.

Garnering the first point for Knightstown Friday was its No. 1 doubles team of Kyle Johnson and Connor Pyle, who defeated New Castle's James Harris and Blake McKown in straight sets 6-1, 6-2.

Shortly thereafter, the Panthers got their second point of the match when their No. 1 singles player, Garrett Dalton, put the finishing touches of a 6-1, 6-1 victory over the Trojans' AJ Abrams.

"I don't think I played as smart as I did against Kyle (Falck in Wednesday's match) and I had to adjust to the wind today," Dalton said after his flight. "I did what I needed to do against AJ, who's a good player, too. I think I'm better prepared to play in the regional this year, as I've developed a serve, have another year of experience under my belt, and am more mentally mature in my approach to each match."

New Castle pulled to within 2-1 in the match when freshman Trent Alfrey, its No. 3 singles player and most consistent winner this season, defeated Knightstown's Brady Howell in straight sets 6-1, 6-2.

"My backhand and serves were working pretty well today," Alfrey said, "and, really, everything went pretty well. I really love playing tennis, even more than playing baseball."

Coach Huntley was proud of Alfrey's performance.

"Trent picked up the sport just last year and had a very good season for us," Huntley said. "He won 13 or 14 matches at No. 3 singles. which was great for a freshman, and he played against a lot of seniors this year. He improved a lot over the season and has a very bright future."

The Panthers clinched their second straight sectional championship a little bit later when No. 2 singles player Cooper Davis bested the Trojans' Josh Martin in straight sets 6-1, 6-3 to give them their third point of the match.

"It feels great to win the sectional championship again," Davis said. "I played No. 3 singles last year. I really owe the credit to my mom, my family, and everyone else who came out to support me. My mom told me to always remain positive on every point of every set. To do well in the regional this year, I think I need to develop more consistency and be able to place the ball into the corner more often making it more difficult to return."

Even though its sectional title had been clinched, Knightstown had to wait a little while longer to hoist the trophy as the only other flight on the day, No. 2 doubles, went to three sets before it was decided.

There, New Castle's duo of Sam Maddy and Aidan Sipes defeated the Panthers' Dylan Chandler and Connor Keith in the first set 6-4. Chandler and Keith roared back in the second set to shut out Maddy and Sipes 6-0 to tie the flight at one set apiece.

In a very competitive third set, Chandler and Keith outlasted Maddy and Sipes 7-5 to claim Knightstown's fourth point of the match. Chandler and Keith were 2-1 in the sectional with their only loss to Tri's Dillon Stevens and Dylan Mofield in Wednesday's opening round.

The Panthers, now 19-2, play the winner of the South Dearborn sectional, Batesville, in today's semifinals of the Richmond regional. The host Red Devils tangle with Connersville in today's other semifinal match.

"Last year was the first time a Knightstown boys tennis team had gone to the regional since the 1990s," Coach Dalton added, "and we didn't know what to expect. We also were up against Richmond, a school four or five times our size, and I think we lost our composure. I think we got a better draw this year, we'll play more cool and composed, and we're looking forward to what we can do at the regional."

Blue River Valley has three individuals moving on to this week's individual state tournament, No. 1 singles player Connor Brookbank and its No. 1 doubles pair of Mason Crisp and Bryce Klein.

Trojan Coach Huntley was upbeat after the loss.

"Knightstown is a good team and beat us twice this season," Huntley added. "We're continuing to build a program from the middle school up and we had 46-48 plays on the coed them at the middle school this year. Our current sophomore class was in eighth grade the first year of that program. We'll continue to work hard in the off-season to get better and I think our future is bright."