East Xtra: Winchester Thurston pair advance

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Charlie Orr and Max Pollack wished the Winchester Thurston tennis team had a better season.

But the Bears failure to qualify for the WPIAL Class AA team tournament has actually benefitted Orr and Pollack as they look ahead to this week's PIAA Class AA doubles tournament.

Orr and Pollack, who play No. 1 and No. 2 singles, respectively, for Winchester Thurston, have been able to concentrate solely on doubles the past few weeks after taking second in both the Class AA Section 3 and WPIAL Class AA tournaments in April.

"Obviously you want the team to succeed, but it's helped us out so much these past few weeks to get coach to ourselves," said Orr, a senior who lives in Shadyside. "Everything's been about doubles."

Orr and Pollack had never played doubles together prior to the practices leading up to the section tournament. But the players' demeanors and styles of play clicked from the start.

"They're both really competitive guys," Winchester Thurston coach Chris McCague said. "And both serve well.

"Charlie is 6 feet 3 and lanky, good at the net and can blow his opponent off the court. Max is shorter, but he can grind his opponent down. They complement each other well."

It also helps that Orr and Pollack have different dominant hands -- Orr is a right-hander and Pollack is a lefty.

"It's a huge advantage for us," said Pollack, a junior who lives in Squirrel Hill. "It allows each of us a side to serve out wide and it throws off our opponents on their serve. They have to think about where to hit it."

Orr and Pollack were seeded second in the Section 3 tournament, and after receiving a first-round bye, won their first match together, 10-6, over Quaker Valley's Winter Fondi and David Allada.

The Bears tandem then took down Sewickley Academy's Danny McCormick and Andrew Parda, 6-3, 6-1, to reach the final, where they faced another Panthers' pair, Luke Vith and Ryan Gex.

Orr and Pollack battled back from a 5-2 deficit in the first set to tie the score at 5, but Gex and Vith won the final two points to take the set. The Sewickley pair went on to win the second set, 6-1, to take the section title.

"In high school tennis, the first set of a doubles match is so huge," McCague said. "After coming back from 5-2 to tie the set, to then lose, it sort of hurt and I think it affected them."

But Orr and Pollack bounced back at the WPIAL tournament, losing just four games in three matches to reach the WPIAL final, where they again ran into Gex and Vith.

Again, the Sewickley pair got the better of the Bears with a 6-2, 6-3 victory.

But, by virtue of their semifinal win against Valley's Cody Schrecongost and Josh Denham, Orr and Pollack had already qualified for the PIAA Class AAA tournament, which will take place Friday and Saturday in Hershey.

"It was huge, especially for it being my senior year," Orr said. "I'd never been to Hershey and it wasn't looking good for the team, so I knew this was my last shot."

The Winchester Thurston team will start off with a match against District 4 champions Dakota Shadle and Tyler Dugan of Galeton at 10:30 Friday morning.

The pair has high expectations heading into their first PIAA doubles tournament.

"Our first goal is to get to the semifinals, and we'll go from there," Pollack said. "We hope to win it all."

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