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By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando and Freedom picked the hottest day of the year so far to square off in the Region II boys tennis tournament match. It was the Warriors, however, who handled the heat and an improved Eagles team 5-2 to advance to the next round of the tournament.
"Freedom has an awesome team," Sherando coach Steve Jennings said. "They played hard and they played well. It was obvious that they had studied our weaknesses and came prepared to exploit them."
Sherando will play the winner of the Western Ablemarle/Handley match on Saturday.
Despite Freedom's improvement, the Warriors varied their game to overcome some early bumps.
As was expected, Sherando's top player, Kaleb Nguyen, had little trouble with Freedom's Wesley Wong in the matchup between the two top seeds. The Sherando senior took Wong in two sets, 6-2, 6-2.
The rest of the singles matches were anything but dominating, though.
Second-seeded Trey Scott of Sherando was forced to play a tie-breaker after his first set with Alex Craig, but the Sherando junior won it 7-2, then finished off Craig 6-0 in the second set.
"I came in with a game plan, but his play was so good that it forced me to change things up a little during the match," Scott said. "I started to try to keep him back more. When I did that, he started to make some errors and that really paid off."
Third-seed Nick Lee had the same problem with his Freedom opponent, Prathamesh Kulkarni.
"I just tried to play my game and probe him during the early play, and then attack his weaknesses," Lee said. "He didn't have that strong of return on my serves and volleys, so I emphasized that and it really helped. It also helped shorten the points, and I wasn't as affected by the heat."
Lee defeated Kulkarni 6-3, 6-3, and it was obvious that both he and Scott gained a valuable edge from listening to Jennings' instructions before the match.
"I've been coaching them to study their opponent and find their weaknesses during a match," Jennings said. "They need to probe their opponent early and find out what his weaknesses are. After they've found them, they need to direct their play towards those weaknesses. I thought our guys did a great job of that today, and it's probably why we won."
Chris Mikus defeated Don Tran in the No. 4 singles match, 6-2, 6-2, thanks to his focus on the game and not on the weather.
"[Tran] played great today," Mikus said. "This was a real challenge. This is the first time I've had to play a match in temperature like this. But, no matter, you have to play the game and work through it."
After the fifth-seed match ended with Freedom's Pablo Bordas topping Sherando's Michael Schulz, 6-1, 6-0, it set up an interesting showdown between the two sixth-seeded players.
With Sherando up 4-1 and only needing one more win to seal the victory, all eyes turned to Sherando's Parker Campanella and his opponent Christian Lanzaro in the sixth-seed match.
After losing the first set 6-2, Campanella came back to defeat Lanzaro 6-4 in the second set, setting up a critical third set to decide whether any doubles matches would be necessary to determine the winner.
"That was scary," Campanella said. "With the heat, it turned into a real marathon. I remember that we went to the bathroom after the second set for a 10-minute break. The walk back seemed like the longest walk I've ever made."
Lanzaro managed to prevail 6-3 in the third set, but Nguyen and Scott handled Freedom's Wong and Kulkarni 6-2, 6-0 in the first-seeded doubles match to give the victory to the Warriors.