South Xtra: Blue Devils move along in state play

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The WPIAL Class AAA team tournament was the final chance for Mt. Lebanon's Peter Hazlett to make it to states all four years of his high school career.

Hazlett played with the Blue Devils in the PIAA Class AAA team tournament his first two years in high school, then took fourth last season in the PIAA Class AAA singles tournament.

But after getting eliminated in the WPIAL quarterfinals in the singles and doubles tournaments this spring, Hazlett knew it came down to the team play.

With an upset of arch-rival Upper St. Clair in the district semifinals, Hazlett and the Blue Devils nabbed a state qualifying spot last week.

"It's unbelievable; I didn't think I was going to make it this year," Hazlett said. "I definitely had doubts because I wasn't playing my best at the beginning of the season. But as time went on, I had a big win against [Upper St. Clair's] Fernando Escribens the second time I played him [in the regular season], and I got a lot of confidence from that. It helped me out through the postseason."

Even with Hazlett beating Escribens in the team's second regular-season meeting, the Blue Devils lost to the Panthers to give Upper St. Clair the season sweep.

The Panthers were awarded the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class AAA team tournament, and Mt. Lebanon was seeded fourth. The Blue Devils beat Hampton, 5-0, and took down Pine-Richland, 3-1, to set up another match against the Panthers.

Hazlett again beat Escribens, and Mt. Lebanon's No. 1 doubles team of Nick Reese and Christian Vietmeier also pulled out a win. Upper St. Clair, meanwhile, got wins at No. 2 singles and No. 2 doubles.

That meant the match came down to No. 3 singles. Mt. Lebanon's Charlie Strohl was coming off a win the prior day against Pine-Richland's Sid Iyer, a player Strohl had never beaten before. Strohl kept the momentum going, beating the Panthers' Christian Meyer in three sets to send the Blue Devils to the final and qualify for the PIAA tournament.

"I think it was a true playoff atmosphere," Mt. Lebanon coach Augie Garofoli said. "We had a lot of fans come from our high school and [Upper St. Clair] did, too. It reminded me of the old days, in the '80s, where we had a lot of people come to watch when Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair played."

In the WPIAL final last Thursday, Mt. Lebanon saw a familiar foe in Shady Side Academy. The Blue Devils and Indians met in the district final in 2011 and '12, splitting the two matches. Shady Side Academy also eliminated Mt. Lebanon in the WPIAL semifinals last year.

The Indians came out on top again Thursday, winning, 3-2. Hazlett won in straight sets and Dane Bendel rallied for a three-set win at No. 2 singles for Mt. Lebanon. But the Indians got a victory at No. 3 singles from Eric Grubbs over Strohl, and Shady Side Academy's two doubles' teams -- the strength of its squad -- lost only six games in two victories.

"The thing I can't fault is that we played hard," Garofoli said. "We were coming off a real emotional win against St. Clair and it's hard to match that, and we started off slow, but then we started to get into a rhythm later. It was just too late."

Despite the loss, Mt. Lebanon came out of the WPIAL tournament feeling good about its play.

After a 5-0 win Tuesday against City League champion Carrick at Lakevue Athletic Club in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament, the Blue Devils will travel to Hershey for the remainder of the state tournament Friday and Saturday.

"Going to Hershey, I think we have a lot of confidence," Hazlett said. "Everyone seems to be playing pretty well; nobody is down."

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