Lady Pilgrims notch 13th straight sectional

BREMEN — Thirteen proved to be Triton’s unlucky number Friday.
As in, the Lady Trojans ran into a buzz saw opposite 13-time sectional champion Plymouth.
The Pilgrims finished off Triton in straight sets on all courts to clinch their 13th straight girls tennis title — and 29th overall — in the finals of the Bremen Sectional at DeSantis Courts Friday. They thus advance to the Culver Girls Academy Regional to play the winner of Friday night’s Warsaw Sectional champion with the winner at Peru set to play host CGA — a 5-0 winner over Rochester for their ninth consecutive title Thursday — in the opposite bracket next Tuesday.
“Plymouth has been blessed with a lot of really good tennis players over the years and a lot of really good competitors over the years. Every year they kind of keep the tradition, keep winning this each year,” said Plymouth head coach Brad Haeck. “We don’t take anything for granted; we didn’t this year at all. Bremen played us tough last night, Triton definitely played us tough, especially at certain positions tonight. We came to play today, and we played pretty well for the most part.”
“We battled the best we could everywhere. A couple of the keys I tried to tell the girls when we first started was number one, cut our own errors, and number two, make them hit another shot and make them earn their points, and I thought we did very well today with that,” said Triton coach Allen Peckham.
The senior-laden Pilgrims were simply too much for the young Trojans to handle as Andria Shook and Marissa German eliminated Marissa Ross and Holly Stogsdill 6-1, 6-2 on the 1 doubles court, Emily Blake and Ellen Smith combined for a 6-0, 6-2 win over Cassaundra Irons and Shayla May, and Carly Berger trumped Michal Scherer-Berry 6-1, 6-0 at 3 singles to clinch the team title.
Allie Berger beat Kaelyn Mason in straight 6-2 sets at 1 singles for the defending champions’ fourth match point of the night, but Triton junior Carrie Slabaugh held on against Mikayla German, forcing a second-set tiebreaker and jumping ahead 1-0 in the tiebreak before the Plymouth senior No. 2 stole back the match momentum with five straight points en route to the 6-2, 7-6(3) win, providing the exclamation point at the sectional championship.
“I thought she played more relaxed than she’s done in a long time. Carrie’s one that puts a lot of pressure on herself, and I kept on telling her ‘Hey, if you take the pressure away and just play tennis, you can play,’” said Peckham. “I think that’s what she did in that second set. She said she was just having some fun.”
“That kind of ended us on a strong note there,” said Haeck of the 2 singles conclusion. “She was really battling Mikayla the whole time, and she was hustling down a lot of balls. Give her a lot of credit because she really made it hard on Mikayla at times — she was definitely getting frustrated there at different times in the second set; she holds herself to a high standard. She pulled it together in the end and just won a few more points than Carrie did there in the second set.”
While Plymouth won the team title, equally important to Friday night’s competition was the fact that the Pilgrims’ No. 1 doubles tandem of Shook and Marissa German remained unbeaten in state tournament play to stay in the hunt for a doubles title regardless of what happens in the team competition at next week’s regional. The duo advanced individually to the finals at the LaPorte Doubles Regional last season before falling to eventual doubles state champions Abigail and Vanessa Madrigal of Highland.
“We had a match where I didn’t think we played real well at Munster on Tuesday and then kind of came back and got a couple good wins against Bremen and Triton there,” said Haeck of his senior tandem. “They’re definitely one of the strengths of our team, and they were able to advance individually last year. Hopefully we’re able to move on as a team further this year. We just need everybody, including them, ready to go for the regional and have our best effort going in there. Hopefully we can get a regional for the first time in a long time.”
The Pilgrims move to 14-4 on the year and now begin their search for the program’s first regional championship in six seasons as they enter the CGA field opposite the winner of Friday’s Warsaw championship between the host Tigers and Wawasee Tuesday.
Plymouth was a 5-0 winner over both in head-to-head Northern Lakes Conference play this season. The winner of that semifinal will play the winner of another regional semifinal match-up between the defending regional-champion Lady Eagles and the winner of the Peru Sectional — either Peru or Wabash — in the championship Wednesday.
“Wawasee actually came on; they’re playing a lot better at the end of the year,” said Haeck. “They played Warsaw really close at a couple of spots and actually beat them at a spot in the conference tournament so I’m expecting them to have a close match with Warsaw. But Warsaw’s probably the better team overall so I’m assuming we’ll see Warsaw. Either way we’ve got to be ready to play our best tennis every match because at this point you lose and you’re done.”
Triton finishes up at a respectable 8-4, meanwhile, in Peckham’s first year at the helm of the girls program. The longtime Triton boys coach and his girls squad — which loses just one player in senior Ross — were even given a nice compliment by DeSantis Courts namesake Frank DeSantis, who came out to watch Friday’s finals.
“I’m very proud of us as a team this year. This is my first year coaching and coming in and not knowing the girls real well, I think everybody fell into place really nice,” said Peckham.
“I talked to Frank DeSantis over there, and he said ‘You guys are not hidden anymore.’ He said ‘You are now up to the level where we’re going to watch out for you.’ That’s a good compliment for the girls. To get the program started on a bright step and to get it looking good for next year is good. I’ve got some solid girls coming back, and I know that at least two or three of them play during the winter so they’re just going to work at their games and keep getting better for next year.”
At Bremen Sectional championship
SINGLES: 1. Allie Berger beat Kaelyn Mason 6-2, 6-2; 2. Mikayla German beat Carrie Slabaugh 6-2, 7-6(3); 3. Carly Berger beat Michal Scherer-Berry 6-1, 6-0.
DOUBLES: 1. Andria Shook-Marissa German beat Marissa Ross-Holly Stogsdill 6-1, 6-2; 2. Emily Blake-Ellen Smith beat Cassaundra Irons-Shayla May 6-0, 6-2.
Records: Plymouth 14-4, Triton 8-4 (final).