ERIE - Playing in their first ever appearance into the PIAA Class AA Team Tennis Championships, the Warren Dragons defeated Winchester Thurston of Pittsburgh by a 3-2 score on Tuesday at the Pennbriar Athletic Club.
"This was a great team match," said Warren coach Jeff Bartsch, whose Dragons have won 19 team matches without a loss. "Every match was a close battle and the Dragons prevailed in three of the five events, enough to move us on to the state quarterfinals. WT is the third-place team our of the WPIAL (District 7), and they matched up well for us."
The Dragons will travel to Hershey and will play the PIAA State Quarter-Finals at 8 a.m. Friday morning at the Hershey Racquet Club.
Photo submitted to Times Observer
State of mind
Members of the District 10 Class AA champion Warren boys tennis team include, from left, in front, Christian Olson, Tyler Madigan, Thomas Pellegrino, Ylli Bakalli, Quinn Boger, Neil Morrison, Bryce Bauer, Max Pierson, Nick Pellegrino, and Teddy Leos and, in back, Nate Sandberg, Drew Lobdell, Shane Burns, Nick Tarpenning, Matt Sandberg, Wyatt Pierson, Liam Boger, Grayson Foley, Hunter Mohney, Sean McGuinness, and Dylan Hanson. Warren won its state playoff match on Tuesday in Erie, advancing to the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals on Thursday in Erie.
"We are among the top eight teams in the state in AA tennis," said Bartsch. "We are very proud of these boys and what they have accomplished so far."
The Dragons will face last year's state finalists, Wyomissing High School, from District 3.
As Bartsch expected, all of the matches today were highly competitive.
"If you love tennis, it was just exciting," said Bartsch.
The first match of the day completed was second doubles, featuring senior Drew Lobdell and junior Nick Tarpenning. The Dragons were dominant from start to finish as they cruised to a 6-4, 6-1 win.
"Drew and Nick played exceptionally well today," said Bartsch.
The second match off the court was third singles, featuring junior Matt Sandberg.
"Matt dropped the first set 3-6 as he was rushing the points and was attacking the net too soon," said Bartsch. "Once he corrected that issue, Matt took charge of the second set with a 6-1 win. The third set was a back-and-forth issue until Matt went back to the net and forced the issue and won 6-4."
Dragon star senior Thomas Pellegrino secured the team win with Warren's third win of the day. Pellegrino faced a very tough Tym Hoban, who owned and used a killer forehand.
"Thomas is fast and is willing to track down every ball struck," said Bartsch. "Today, he had to chase a lot of wide balls in order to grind-out a hard-fought 6-4, 6-4 win. There is absolutely no quit in Thomas' game. He won't give up and Hoban kept firing hard forehands, which Thomas would somehow get back over and over again. Thomas' effort today was simply outstanding."
Warren's top doubles team of Grayson Foley and freshman Nate Sandberg took the first set, 6-2. The second set was all WT as the Dragons were a bit impatient and the Bears prevailed 6-3, said Bartsch. At one set all, the Dragons came out firing and took a commanding 5-2 lead. The opponents went into lob mode and we became tentative with overheads. The Dragons dropped the decision 7-5 in the third for WT's first team point of the day.
"Our boys weren't happy with this loss, but I had to tell them, after the fact, that this pair had recently defeated Upper St. Clair, a top AAA doubles team," said Bartsch.
The last match off was top singles. Warren's No. 1, Shane Burns, faced a persistent Gabe Isaacson. The Dragon prevailed 6-4 in the first set. In the second set, Isaacson was content to keep the ball in play and force Burns to take the offensive. With the balls fluffing-up and traveling slower, Burns had difficulty in putting balls away. Isaacson prevailed 6-3 in the second set. The third set saw more of the same and Burns was down 5-4 before staging a comeback. Tied at 6-all, the match came down to a tiebreak in which Isaacson survived 7 points to 5 giving the team point to the Bears.
Needless to say, Warren's boys tennis team has never been here before. Fairview had won the first 11 District 10 team championships before Warren took its first this year; add to that a Region 2 championship, and Burns winning the D-10 singles title and Pellegrino and Sandberg the D-10 doubles title.