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PAWTUCKET â€” A day earlier, Devan Dube and Ben Degrange earned a point without having to set a single foot on the courts at Slater Park. Less than 24 hours later under humid conditions, the No. 3 doubles team for North Smithfield found themselves in a position where the fate of the Division III championship rested on their slender shoulders.
Oh, the drama.
With a heavy twist of poetic justice, the fans and parents of Middletown and North Smithfield flocked to the No. 3 court to watch the No. 3 doubles teams for each side slug it out. On that stretch of hard surface is where the fourth and deciding team point would be decided, breaking what was a 3-all deadlock.
Dube and Degrange fought the good fight to push their opponents to a third set, but Middletownâ€™s Justin Bartenbach and Matt Violet wound up being just a little bit better. By claiming the No. 3 set in 7-5 fashion â€“ a game that was punctuated with a thunderous return by Violet â€“ Bartenbach and Violet clinched the Islandersâ€™ first-ever title in boysâ€™ tennis, 4-3.
Against Burrillville in the semifinals, Dube and Degrange won via forfeit. North Smithfield head coach Matt Pavao admitted that the kind of heavy-duty pressure that confronted his pair Monday was new territory. After dropping the first set, 6-4, Pavao reminded Dube and Degrange to play free and easy, a message that had some carryover as the second set went North Smithfieldâ€™s way, 6-3.
â€śFor most of their matches, they kind of breezed through most of the teams,â€ť noted Pavao. â€śOne of my guys, Devan Dube, plays hockey. I told him to have a hockey mentality because he was a little nervous at first.
â€śI told them that they (meaning the Islandersâ€™ Bartenbach and Violet) were not putting hard balls by you. Be aggressive,â€ť the coach continued. â€śThey didnâ€™t lose the season. Itâ€™s a team thing. We had three other losses.â€ť
The three defeats Pavao alluded to happened right off the bat as the Northmen, the top seed for the North bracket, came perilously close to seeing their season end in 4-0 fashion. Senior Adam Korson was able to get North Smithfield off the mat with a straight-set triumph at No. 3 singles.
â€śHe really came through,â€ť stated Pavao matter-of-factly about Korson. â€śHe only had a few losses during the regular season. His only problem during the season was kind of being too patient, but I knew once the playoffs started, whatever it took to win, he would do it.â€ť
Korsonâ€™s performance gave way to the No. 1 doubles team of Zach Vadenais and Dalton Kell vanquishing Middletownâ€™s Rodrigo Pelayo and Jameson McQuade by scores of 6-2, 6-2. Momentum continued to stay on North Smithfieldâ€™s side with Zach Vadenais and Dalton Kell taking care of business at No. 2 doubles.
â€śAll year long, itâ€™s been our doubles teams that have carried us,â€ť Pavao said. â€śYou really hope that it doesnâ€™t get to the final match just because of the nerves, but Iâ€™m pleased with the way (Dube and Degrange) responded.â€ť
Pavao admitted that North Smithfield entered this season with a championship-or-bust mindset. The team ended up in a three-way tie for first place in III-North with Burrillville and St. Raphael, each squad 10-2.
â€śObviously we came up short, but thereâ€™s nothing to be ashamed of in terms of making it to the state championship and losing 7-5 in the third set with the match tied 3-3,â€ť Pavao said. â€śItâ€™s a little bittersweet when you look at the second place (finish), but over time theyâ€™ll be proud of what they did.â€ť
The future looks bright for the North Smithfield program with Pavao saying that the returning players are taking the necessary steps in order to make a serious commitment to the sport.
â€śThereâ€™s been a big increase in terms of playing outside and taking lessons, so I donâ€™t think weâ€™re going to miss a beat,â€ť Pavao said. â€śAll of the kids, they said theyâ€™re going to join to the same camps during the summer and winter, so theyâ€™ll be playing together.
â€śI told them that theyâ€™re going to win the state championship. If it wasnâ€™t this year, itâ€™ll be next year.â€ť