To say that the Knightstown High School boys tennis team has been successful under Head Coach Steve Dalton’s guidance is putting it mildly.
The Panthers won their fourth consecutive sectional championship with a 5-0 victory over Shenandoah Friday evening on the courts at New Castle High School.
Knightstown, now 20-1 for the season, moves on to the Richmond regional, where it will face Rushville in today’s second semifinal match on the RHS courts adjacent to the Tiernan Center.
Batesville and host Richmond meet in today’s first regional semifinal match, with today’s winners meeting for the regional team championship Wednesday.
“We’ve had another great season thus far and hope to keep it going by winning the regional,” Knightstown Head Coach Steve Dalton remarked after the match. “We’re building a program from the intermediate school on up and we’ve had good results. We like our chances against whoever we play in the regional.”
All five of Friday’s flights in the championship match at New Castle were straight-set victories.
The Panthers got their first point when their No. 3 singles player, sophomore Brayden McDaniel, defeated Raider freshman JT Rogers 6-1, 6-0 in a flight that ended at 5:28 p.m.
McDaniel made the C-T All-Area Baseball team as a freshman last spring.
“I just tried to keep the ball in play and take advantage of any mistakes he (Rogers) made,” McDaniel remarked after his flight. “Tennis and baseball have similar requirements, as both sports need good eye-to-hand coordination to succeed.”
Knightstown moved closer to clinching the championship about five minutes later when its No. 2 doubles duo of senior Carson Smith and junior Jace Wilkerson bested the Shenandoah pair of senior Will Jennings and junior Tyler Nuzzolese 6-0, 6-1.
The winner of the sectional championship match was decided at 5:40 p.m. when the Panthers’ No. 1 doubles pair of seniors Connor Pyle and Kyle Johnson put the finishing touches of a 6-0, 6-1 victory over the Shenandoah duo of senior Calyb Toffolo and sophomore Landen Mathes.
Tennis partners Pyle and Johnson were undefeated during the regular season during their sophomore, junior, and senior campaigns.
“We just played our regular game, tried to hit winners when we could, and waited for them to make the mistakes,” Pyle said after the flight ended.
Tennis partner Johnson echoed that to a degree.
“It’s great to win four sectionals in a row,” Johnson noted. “We’ve been playing together for so long, we kind of know what each other will do in certain situations, and our record reflects that.”
The match wasn’t over, however, as action still was going on in the No. 1 and 2 singles flights.
Another 32 minutes passed until Knightstown senior Aiden Richardson completed a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Raider sophomore Will Abbett at No. 2 singles.
Richardson did not play in that spot during Thursday’s semifinals against New Castle because he still was in quarantine.
The only flight still going on was in No. 1 singles, and Shenandoah senior Clay Conner had something major at stake. If Conner could defeat Panther sophomore Hunter Steimel, he would move on to the state singles tournament.
Both players are known for playing a patient waiting game, keeping the ball in play and hoping the opponent would make some kind of mistake.
Competitors at No. 1 singles are good players and can keep the ball in play for a long period of time before a point is recorded. That was true for Friday’s flight between Conner and Steimel.
Eventually, Steimel outlasted Conner 6-2, 6-3 in a flight that finished at 6:16 p.m. to enable his team to sweep the title match 5-0.
“Knightstown has another very good team this season,” Shenandoah Head Coach John Rhodes said afterward, “and I wish them well in the regional. There was some good play on both sides today at No. 1 and 2 singles, and both matches lasted a good while. We’ll have four of our top seven returning next season.”
New Castle junior Trent Alfrey will commence state singles tournament play this week in Richmond by virtue of his 2-0 record in No. 1 singles during sectional play.
Knightstown’s Pyle and Johnson still are eligible to compete in the state doubles tournament as long as they remain undefeated.