South Xtra: Lebo bows out in WPIAL semifinals

HIGH SCHOOL TENNIS

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Mt. Lebanon saw a familiar foe Tuesday in the WPIAL Class AAA boys tennis team tournament.

For the third consecutive season, the Blue Devils faced off against Shady Side Academy in the district tournament.

"I think we've got a little thing going with them," said Shady Side coach Tom Mercer, who just happens to be a Mt. Lebanon graduate. "The matches are really competitive and they're fun to watch."

The only difference this time around was the stakes.

In 2011 and 2012, Mt. Lebanon and Shady Side faced off in the WPIAL title match, with the Blue Devils winning the first time and the Indians winning last season's title.

In those matches, both teams had already qualified for the PIAA Class AAA tournament.

This season, however, the two teams met in the WPIAL semifinals. With only two teams from the classification qualifying for the state tournament, either Shady Side or Mt. Lebanon would be sitting at home when next week's PIAA tournament starts.

And it will be the Blue Devils.

The Indians got a straight-set win at No. 3 singles from Cooper Kahn and three-set victories at No. 2 singles and both doubles spots for a 4-0 win at Pine-Richland.

The No. 1 singles match was halted before its completion because it was raining and the team match had already been decided. The Blue Devils' Peter Hazlett had won the first set and was winning the second set at the time.

"I thought we were pretty evenly matched," Mt. Lebanon coach Augie Garofoli said. "I thought we played a better match this time around than the first time we played them [this season]."

Mt. Lebanon lost a non-section match in the regular season to Shady Side, 3-2. But both teams were missing starters in that match and Tuesday's contest was much closer than the final score indicated.

In addition to Hazlett, the Blue Devils got first-set wins from David Mewkalo at No. 2 singles and the tandem of Nick Reese and Christian Vietmier at No. 1 doubles and looked to be control.

But Mewkalo lost the next two sets to Eric Grubbs, however, while Grubbs' brother, Chris, teamed with Michael Kann to win the next two sets to beat Reese and Vietmier.

Those gave the Indians the match win.

"It was a momentum shift throughout the whole match," Garofoli said. "We had the momentum early -- we came out fired up. Then [Shady Side] settled in."

So for the first time in three seasons, the Blue Devils won't be traveling to Hershey as a team. Mt. Lebanon finished the season with three losses, two to Shady Side and one to conference rival Upper St. Clair. But the Blue Devils should be strong contenders to make it to the state tournament once again next season.

Hazlett, who will play in the PIAA Class AAA singles tournament May 24-25, will return for his senior season. He finished as the runner-up to Central Catholic's Adam Blasinsky in the WPIAL Class AAA singles tournament April 15-16.

"He definitely gives us an edge [at No. 1 singles]," Garofoli said. "He's such a tough competitor. His play helps boost the rest of the team."

No. 3 singles player Dane Bendel, who battled a back injury for much of the season, will return for his junior season.

The Blue Devils will also return all four of their starting doubles players, juniors Reese and Tyler Palumbo and freshmen Vietmier and Charlie Strohl.

Garofoli is expecting the two ninth-graders in particular to take the next step in 2014.

"We had two freshman starting and I thought they grew as the year went on," Garofoli said. "I think they're going to get better. I think now they know that in a team atmosphere there's a little more pressure, but a little more excitement."

With Shady Side also having two freshman starters and six starters overall slated to return next season, Garofoli expects the future to yield more matchups between the teams.

"I think it will be a good future match in the years to come," Garofoli said.

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