Having drawn Madison-Grant in their Sectional 44 semifinal matchup on Thursday night, Marion Head Coach Doug Porter knew it was going to be tough sledding.
While he had Vikram Oddiraju, Jack Fauser, and Alex Spitzer at his disposal, the Argylls countered with Nick Evans, Jace Gilman, and Jackson Manwell, each of whom played a major role in Madison-Grant’s success this season.
From the opening serve, the Giants and Argylls battled with one another, grinding for every point and every set, but in the end, hard fought triumphs by Fauser and Spitzer at No. 2 and No. 3 singles, lifted Marion to a 3-2 victory and a berth in the Sectional 44 championship.
“I knew this was going to be exactly like it was tonight,” Marion Head Coach Doug Porter said. “This is probably the best season that Madison-Grant has had in the history of their boys program.”
Oddiraju quickly gave Marion an early 1-0 lead, defeating Nick Evans 6-1, 6-1, but the Argylls collected the next two points, both in doubles. Clayton Hull and Christopher Fox defeated Clayton Drook and Ryan Sebastian 6-4, 6-4 at No. 2 doubles, while the team of Lance Wilson and Bryce Metzger overcame a furious rally by Elijah Maki and Soren Bruehler to win the No. 1 doubles match 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.
For over two hours, Fauser and Gilman battled tooth and nail, clawing and scratching for every point, particularly in the second set. At one point, Gilman led by 4-3 and 5-4 scores, but Fauser never wavered, winning the final three games to win 6-3, 7-5.
“Jack had to dig really deep. You could see on his face that Jack was bewildered. You don’t fluster Jack a lot,” Porter said. “He had to be tough and come up with his best shots. I’m really proud of Jack for hanging in there. It was a great match.”
Despite the loss, Madison-Grant Head Coach Tony Pitt was thrilled with how Gilman played in his final high school match.
“That match in a nutshell summarizes Jace,” Pitt said. “His groundstrokes aren’t the best. His technique’s not the best, but he’s got heart, and he’s got desire. He’s been our leader, and he just left everything on the court. I could not be prouder of a team or an individual as what I am of Jace.”
The No. 3 singles match also went to three sets. Spitzer won the first set handily, throwing Manwell off of his game, but Manwell was able to turn it around in the second game, overcoming a 5-3 deficit to force a third set.
“In the first set, Alex played really well and Jackson was struggling to play his game, and then Jackson turned it around in the second set,” Porter added. “Alex had him on the ropes at 5-3, and he got a little tentative at the end of that second set.”
During the break in between sets, Porter gave Spitzer some tough love, instructing him to follow the game plan.
That’s exactly what Spitzer did, and his strong play in the final set led to a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory, punching Marion’s ticket to the sectional final in the process.
“He got back to hitting confident shots and confident approach shots. That is the Alex I know that can play,” Porter said. “He put more pressure on Jackson in the third set and took the match to Jackson instead of Jackson taking it to Alex. I think that was the difference in the third set. He had a different mindset, and I’m really proud of him for that.”
While the Argylls’ season came to an end on Wednesday, Pitt had nothing but great things to say about his kids.
“We could have easily fallen apart and gone to the wayside when we had some close first sets, but to see the energy and the love for each other…it was great to see,” Pitt said.
Their dedication to the game of tennis led the boys’ program to new heights this season, and the play of his seniors, particularly Evans, Gilman, and Manwell was a big reason why.
“I remember when we started our middle school program years ago, our No. 1 and 2 singles players were Nick Evans and Jackson Manwell,” Pitt said. “To see the evolvement of not just those two but the others from this class…words can’t express.”
In the other semifinal, Mississinewa recorded their 15th win of the season, easily dispatching of the Blackford Bruins to set up a rematch with Marion in the championship match. The Indians lost a total of two games, as John Oliver, Hayden Rowley, and the team of Ryan Scott and Riley Fuqua each swept the competition at No. 1 singles, No. 3 singles, and No. 1 doubles, respectively.
“We took care of business tonight,” Mississinewa Head Coach Bruce Fleming said. “I think the kids were focused a little more on tomorrow, you could see that. But it was nice to play a match before we play one of these two teams.”
The first time that Marion and Mississinewa played this year, the Giants earned a 3-2 victory, but whenever these two teams get together, it is always a war, and Friday night will not be any different.
““I am glad we were battle tested tonight going into that match tomorrow,” Porter said. “We are in battle mode right now. They’ll be ready to go.”
“I know whoever wins this sectional is going to earn it,” Fleming added. “We are going to have to face a good team. We just have to make sure we are physically ready. These kids are excited about the opportunity. We feel that if we play well [Friday,] we can compete for the championship. We have faith in our abilities that we can do it.”