It was singles play that ultimately doomed Shady Side and Sewickley at the PIAA team tournaments last weekend.
The Indians made it to the final of the PIAA Class AAA tournament, where they faced Conestoga in a rematch of the 2012 state championship match.
And just like the year before, Conestoga was too talented, sweeping the three singles matches on its way to a 4-1 victory.
"Their three singles guys were too good," Shady Side Academy coach Tom Mercer said. "All were at the same level or a little better than [Shady Side Academy's No. 1 player] Alok [Nimgaonkar], and I think Alok had a chance but just didn't play a good match. From there, we had less of a chance in the next two matches. Their No. 3 player could have probably played No. 1."
The Indians will be in good position next season to reach their third consecutive state championship match, as they will return six of their top seven players, with Nimgaonkar the lone senior starter.
"We made a lot of improvements from last year to this year from just being a year older and stronger," Mercer said. "So I think another year will help in that regard."
Sewickley, meanwhile, entered the PIAA Class AA tournament with one of the most accomplished singles trios in seniors Colin Kaye, Will Kleeman and Patrick Dellinger.
Kaye and Kleeman are four-year starters, while Dellinger has started the past three seasons. Kaye won the 2012 WPIAL singles championship. Kleeman has been a part of the past three WPIAL Class AA doubles titles and Dellinger won one district doubles title with Kleeman and qualified for the WPIAL singles tournament this season.
But the trio was no match for Lancaster Country Day's top three players Saturday in the PIAA Class AA team tournament semifinals.
Blaise Casselbury, Spencer Rhoads and Wesley Davis beat Kaye, Kleeman and Dellinger, all in straight sets, in a 3-1 victory for Lancaster Country Day.
"The singles players for Lancaster were too strong," Sewickley Academy coach Whitney Snyder said. "Anytime your team is unable to win a set in singles, you just tip your hat to the other team. We have very strong singles players, but they were just too strong."
Despite the loss, Snyder was happy with how his team played not only on Saturday, but all season. The Panthers won another section title and their 10th consecutive WPIAL championship.
For the Panthers' three singles players, as well as Hayden Moyer, Saturday was the last match in team play in a Sewickley uniform.
Panthers, Indians doubles pairs ready
After winning the WPIAL doubles title with Kleeman, Kaye said he would give up playing the state doubles tournament if Sewickley could win the state team tournament.
Well, the Panthers came up short last weekend as a team, so now Kaye and Kleeman will have to look to win the doubles tournament instead.
"I think their chances are good," Snyder said. "Colin is our No. 1 singles player and Will is a dominant doubles player. He has won three WPIAL doubles titles. And most of the best players from other teams will be playing in the singles tournament."
Kleeman finished third in the PIAA doubles tournament last season with Patrick Dellinger. The team that beat the Sewickley duo, two-time state champion Sam Borowsky and Max Blumenthal of Harriton, were seniors last season.
Kleeman will not be 100 percent. He is battling tendinitis in his right wrist that has caused him to miss some practice time and need physical therapy. Kleeman said he'll be ready to go this weekend.
"It's a little bit limiting and I don't have as much kick on my serve as I want," Kleeman said. "But I'm going to go out and give everything I have."
Kaye and Kleeman will start the state tournament with a first-round match against South Williamsport's Bryce Jones and Christian Cioffi at 10:30 Friday morning at the Hershey Racquet Club.
Shady Side Academy's Alok Nimgaonkar and Chris Grubbs will also have a chance to put their loss in the team tournament in the rearview mirror as they try to take the state doubles title in Class AAA.
Nimgaonkar and Grubbs won their second WPIAL title in a row in April. Last season, the pair lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual state champions.
This year, they'll be one of the favorites.
"We talked about it after we looked at the draw, and they think they have a good chance," Mercer said.
The Indians toughest competition could come from Fox Chapel's Ben Short and Sid Rajupet. Nimgaonkar and Grubbs beat the Foxes' tandem in the section and WPIAL final this season, but it took them three sets to do so in the district championship.
Vincentian sophomore gets his chance
Vincentian Academy's Derek Chen, who won the WPIAL Class AA singles championship last month, will make his first trip to Hershey for the PIAA championships.
A sophomore, Chen will face Towanda's David Rodenhizer, the District 4 runner-up, in his opening match at 9 a.m. Friday.
First Published May 23, 2013 4:00 AM