By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando High School's Ben Hulver wasn't going to give an inch on Tuesday.
Hosting Northwestern District rival Millbrook in a boys tennis match, Hulver and his teammates scraped and scrapped for nearly every point against the Pioneers before eventually falling 6-3 after losing all three doubles matches.
Hulver, a junior, just took that dogged determination a bit further. He grabbed an early lead in his No. 4 singles match against the Pioneers' Conner Pierson, but couldn't hold it as Pierson rallied back to force a tiebreaker. Hulver regrouped to win that, 7-4, but he wasn't through yet.
As the Warriors entered doubles play tied 3-3 with Millbrook (4-0, 1-0 Northwestern), Hulver and doubles partner Jared Lin-Van De Crommert settled in for their match against Millbrook's Sean Franz and Pierson.
More than four hours after play began, it finally ended with yet another tiebreaker as Franz and Pierson prevailed 9-7 under the lights. By then, the Pioneers had already clinched the match by winning the other two doubles points.
"He always does that," Warriors coach Steve Jennings said of Hulver. "Either his matches are very quick or they take forever. That's who he is."
Sherando (2-3) had plenty of long, grueling matches with the Pioneers on Tuesday. At No. 1 singles, the Warriors' Matt Blaney engaged in a back-and-forth battle with Millbrook freshman Hayden Wilfong.
Blaney got off to a slow start as the left-handed Wilfong displayed impressive shot-making ability early. Blaney, a senior, regrouped after trailing 7-4 to eventually grab a 9-8 lead and have match point within his grasp. He couldn't close it, though, and Wilfong took the next two games for a 10-9 lead. Blaney then fended off his rival by breaking Wilfong's serve to send the match to a tiebreaker.
From there, Wilfong put together a solid string of tennis to push his lead to 4-1. Blaney rallied for two straight points to get back within one before Wilfong closed out the win with three consecutive points.
"He had a long match yesterday, a tiebreaker at No. 1, and then he came out and had a long match today," Millbrook coach Michael Arney said of Wilfong. "I'm real impressed with him as a freshman, coming out and doing what he's doing right now."
Jennings thought Blaney's slow start was costly, and the near-miss at closing out the match didn't help.
"He battled back and he fought back hard," Jennings said. "I think he mentally ran out of juice there at the end because he saw the finish line, he was one point from winning and after he didn't win that last point I think he just mentally wasn't there anymore."
Sherando got singles wins from Nik Mikus at No. 2, Hulver at No. 4 and Quintin DeGroot at No. 5 to match the Pioneers' winners of Wilfong, Franz (No. 3) and Bradley McGuire (No. 6).
In doubles action, Millbrook's Matt Ulich and Jonathan Crowley gave their team a quick lead with a 10-4 win at No. 3. Then Wilfong and Dillon Rice secured the team victory with a 10-7 win at No. 1 doubles.
"Sherando always has a good tennis team, and we really had to work for it today," Arney said. "I'm really glad we were able to work together as a team and pull it through at the end."
Blaney is looking forward to seeing the Pioneers again this season.
"It's going to be a battle right down to district quarters -- finals, maybe, I don't know," Blaney said. "I have a good feeling about next time. We're all going to take our notes and talk about where we made our mistakes."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>