Paupack's undermanned boys tennis team suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to Scranton
Jim Ball was fully expecting a stellar season this spring on the Lackawanna League boys tennis scene.
The only varsity coach in Wallenpaupack Area history was entering his 32nd year armed with a deep roster of talented players.
Alas for Coach Ball and the Buckhorn faithful, an unfortunate series of events seemed to conspire against this year's team.
Illness, injury and a spate of scheduling conflicts combined to de-rail Paupack in its quest for a berth in the District Two tournament.
The final blow came on Thursday when the Bucks hosted Scranton for a D-2 Class AAA play-in match.
Top singles player Reed Evans wasn't at full strength and doubles star Liam Cunningham was out once again due to sickness.
The result, perhaps predictably, was a 3-2 loss and the premature end to a once-promising season.
"This was a frustrating year in so many ways," Coach Ball said.
"It seemed like we never had our full team out there on the court for any extended period of time. If we had, I really think things would have been different."
With this win, the Knights sewed up the #5 seed in a District 2/4 sub-regional tourney that will begin this week.
Paupack, meanwhile, closes out its campaign with a solid 10-5 record.
Abington Heights once again ran away with the Lackawanna League's Class AAA regular season crown.
The Comets cruised to a perfect 14-0 record while Delaware Valley came in second at 12-2.
Paupack and Scranton battled for that all-important third spot right down to the wire and finished with identical 10-4 marks. This necessitated a one match play-in for the right to compete at the D-2 tourney.
Co-captains Jeff Alderfer and Eric Miller led the way on this particular day.
A senior and Paupack's #2 singles player, Alderfer exhibits excellent leader ship qualities both on and off the court all season.
On Thursday, Alderfer went toe-to-toe with the Knights' Dhruv Patel and battled his way to a straight set win. Despite a nagging shoulder injury, Jeff let loose with one booming serve after another en route to a 6-3, 6-3 sweep.
"That serve is kind of his calling card," Coach Ball said. "Jeff lost to that kid the first time around, but I think he showed a lot of heart out there today getting us a big win."
Meanwhile, Miller once again put his team before himself in the hope of pulling out a victory.
A senior and 4-year varsity veteran, Eric agreed to give up his customary spot at #3 singles to play in the #1 doubles slot. He teamed up with freshman Spencer Chichinsky (with whom he'd never partnered before) to hammer out a straight set win.
This dynamic tennis duo dominated the first set with Scranton's Prerack Patel and Harsh Patel, rolling to a 6-1 decision. Miller and Chichinsky then closed things out with a 6-4 triumph in the second set.
"Eric is a fantastic kid," said Coach Ball.
"On top of being a very consistent, hard-working player, he's also one of the most polite and gentlemanly kids I've ever coached. Eric is always positive and never shows poor sportsmanship."
Over & Out
Unfortunately for the Paupack faithful on hand Thursday, the Buckhorns simply weren't able to over come an injury depleted starting line-up.
Evans put up a gallant fight at #1 singles, but was never able to get anything going. Reed dropped the opening set against Scranton's Dipam Shah, 6-4, then fell 6-1 in the second.
"Reed obviously wasn't at full strength today," Coach Ball said of his talented sophomore. "He beat that kid pretty handily the first time they played, but Reed struggled this time."
David Deutsch gave the Knights' Kanish Amin all he could handle in the first set at #3 singles before eventually suffering a 6-3 setback.
Amin dominated the second set, though, rolling to a 6-0 victory.
Scranton sealed the deal on a 3-2 win with a straight set triumph at #2 doubles.
Paupack's Billy Reese and Matt Hendershot were broken just once in the first set, but still sustained a 6-4 loss. The Knights' duo of Akash Patel and Sam Shah closed out the match with a 6-3 win in the second.
"Overall, this was a pretty good season," Coach Ball said.
"We won 10 matches and that's usually enough to get you into districts. This year, though, we came up a little bit short. We'll definitely be back next year..."