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 Middletownâs 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 Smithfieldâs way, 6-3.
âFor most of their matches, they kind of breezed through most of the teams,â noted Pavao. âOne of my guys, Devan Dube, plays hockey. I told him to have a hockey mentality because he was a little nervous at first.
âI told them that they (meaning the Islandersâ Bartenbach and Violet) were not putting hard balls by you. Be aggressive,â the coach continued. âThey didnât lose the season. Itâs a team thing. We had three other losses.â
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.
âHe really came through,â stated Pavao matter-of-factly about Korson. âHe 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
Korsonâs performance gave way to the No. 1 doubles team of Zach Vadenais and Dalton Kell vanquishing Middletownâs Rodrigo Pelayo and Jameson McQuade by scores of 6-2, 6-2. Momentum continued to stay on North Smithfieldâs side with Zach Vadenais and Dalton Kell taking care of business at No. 2 doubles.
âAll year long, itâs been our doubles teams that have carried us,â Pavao said. âYou really hope that it doesnât get to the final match just because of the nerves, but Iâm pleased with the way (Dube and Degrange) responded.â
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.
âObviously we came up short, but thereâs 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 Pavao said. âItâs a little bittersweet when you look at the second place (finish), but over time theyâll be proud of what they did.â
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.
âThereâs been a big increase in terms of playing outside and taking lessons, so I donât think weâre going to miss a beat,â Pavao said. âAll of the kids, they said theyâre going to join to the same camps during the summer and winter, so theyâll be playing together.
âI told them that theyâre going to win the state championship. If it wasnât this year, itâll be next year.â