The North Smithfield boysâ€™ tennis team poses for a team picture with its runner-up plaque after falling to unbeaten Narragansett, 4-0, in the Division III state championship match at Slater Park. The Northmen, who captured the Division III title last spring, finish this season with an 11-3 record, their fourth straight year with 11 or more victories. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
PAWTUCKET â€” The last time North Smithfield had faced Narragansett, way back on cold and windy April 14, the Northmen snatched all three doubles matches before the four singles players suffered defeats.
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The final: Narragansett, 4-3.
Based on that information, North Smithfield head coach Matt Pavao had hoped one or two of his singles representatives could eke out a triumph when the two forces met again for the R.I. Division III Team Tournament championship.
The problem: It never got that far. Excepting one contest, the Mariners dominated the singles portion and sailed to a 4-0 victory over the Northmen at Slater Park's Mike Kenny Courts on Saturday morning.
Narragansett not only grabbed its first state crown since 1987, but did so flawlessly with a 13-0 overall mark.
â€śObviously, it wasn't the result we wanted, but Narragansett's a very good team,â€ť Pavao half-grinned after his players accepted their silver medals and state runner-up plaque. â€śI thought we were a little better than they were in doubles, and they were slightly better in the singles. Since there are four singles matches and three doubles matches, that's how it played out.â€ť
The wild thing about this clash came in the way the triumph had materialized. Junior tri-captain Nick St. Laurent earned a quick 6-1, 6-2 decision over freshman Alex Bourque at No. 4 singles, and Narragansett held that minute 1-0 advantage for at least 45-50 minutes.
In the span of only four, however, the Mariners sealed the last three verdicts. Fellow junior tri-captain Dylan Jardon outlasted senior co-captain Ben Degrange, 7-6 (7), 6-1, at No. 2; and classmate Devon Chofay downed senior Matt Lachance, 6-3, 6-1, at No. 1.
Mere seconds after that bout had ended, Will Lurgio â€“ another junior and captain â€“ collected a 6-2, 6-3 win over junior Adam Destefano at the No. 3 spot. As soon as that was declared, tourney director John Jasionowski suspended the match at 4-0, given the fact it's a playoff by-law.
That meant the Northmen had no hope to â€“ at the very least â€“ notch a team point.
â€śThat kid (Chofay) hits it hard; he's a good player,â€ť Lachance sighed after the defeat. â€śEarlier this season, I only lost to him by two points in a third-set tiebreaker. That time, I just wanted to hit it to his backhand and come up to the net; I did most of the time and put away the volleys.
â€ś(On Saturday), I tried a similar strategy, but he made some great shots, so I guess you have to give him credit for that,â€ť he continued. â€śWhat bothers me the most is now my high school sports career is over. I'm proud of this team because we got here. We lost a lot of kids from last season's state championship team, so I honestly didn't think we'd be here.
â€śWe had to beat a team (St. Raphael) we had lost to, 4-3, during the season in the semifinal, and we did that, which was great. Still, the goal is to a win the state title. We wanted to defend it but fell short.â€ť
Noted Degrange, who took his first set against Jardon to a thrilling tiebreaker before yielding, 6-7 (7-9): â€śI'm bummed. Last year was a fantastic season, and we came out of it with the state title. This time, we played really well, especially the doubles, who had great records.
â€śDuring the regular season, I got beat by a lot more, so I was thinking from the start, 'I'm not going to let that happen again,'â€ť he added. â€śI tried to stay consistent and hit to the corners, try to keep him off-balance, and I was trying to make sure I hot deep balls so he couldn't rush the net. I guess I didn't do a very good job of that in the second set.â€ť
This happened to be the same squad North Smithfield had squeaked by in the 2013 team final.
â€śOn one side, I'd say revenge is sweet; we lost to them, 4-2, and that wasn't fun,â€ť laughed Narragansett mentor Russ Wyatt, who ironically used to coach the Northmen years ago. â€śThe guys knew it was within their grasp last spring, and they had the opportunity to clinch it, but it was squandered.
â€śOur players were definitely primed for this one; they weren't going to take any prisoners,â€ť he continued. â€śWhen we played at North Smithfield (in April), there were 65-mph winds, so you never know what's going to happen in those conditions. Wind can be a great equalizer.
â€śWe ended up winning all four singles and lost all three doubles, and those teams who played together were not the same as the ones who played (Saturday). My only conversation with them was, 'Hey, if you want it, go take it!'
â€śAs soon as I head (Jasionowski) yell 'The match is suspended!' that's when I was taken aback, and the tears started to form. This isn't only a state championship, one we haven't had since, like, back in the early '90s, but the guys remained undefeated.
â€śNow that's special.â€ť