PAWTUCKET – A disappointed Matt Lachance stood behind the fence of Slater Park's Mike Kenny Courts on Monday morning watching his North Smithfield High doubles teammates compete against Narragansett's best.
The junior had just suffered a 6-2, 6-4 loss to sophomore Devon Chofay at the top singles slot, and was upset; he thought he had let down his team.
“I played awful,” Lachance stated. “It was one of the worst matches of my life. The wind kept taking the balls I was hitting just long. I'd just tap it, but it was still flying … The last time I faced him, I lost 6-4, 7-5, but I thought I had a chance. I came in here expecting to win.
“I had no thought at all about coming in here and choking,” he added. “This whole year has been phenomenal. I was on the basketball team that went undefeated and won the (Division III) state championship, and I also was on the unified basketball team that took the (D-III) state title. I kept thinking about what a great way it would be to end my junior year, with three championships.
“I'm praying we pull this out. If we don't, it will be just like the '07 Patriots – going into the Super Bowl unbeaten but losing. That's what it would feel like to me.”
About 75 minutes later, Lachance was on top of the world. Slowly but surely, North Smithfield overcame a 2-1 team deficit with three straight triumphs – all in the doubles section of the lineup – to seal a thrilling 4-2 victory over the Mariners in the R.I. Division III Team Tournament final.
Near the end, most of the Northmen contingent, and over 100 fans, stood riveted to the match between junior Ben Degrange and Narragansett sophomore Will Lurgio at No. 4 singles. In the third set, Degrange – who would clinch the entire match with a win – held a 5-2 cushion, but dropped the next two games.
Only seconds later, however, the crowd heard an eruption on the other side of the complex; that turned out to be a reaction to the No. 3 tandem of juniors Dan Kasanovich and Greg Soito clinching a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 verdict over fellow juniors Jay Deluca and Mackenzie Boutin.
“We were down, 3-2, in the third set, and we just knew we had to support each other,” noted Kasanovich, whose squad closed the campaign with a perfect 14-0 mark. “We just went off after that. We pulled together as a unit, and this feels fantastic!”
Explained Soito: “We won my serve at love in the last game; we just knew we had to win. We didn't know about how the other matches had gone, but we knew Ben (Degrange) had lost two games in a row. Once we clinched it, man, this is the greatest feeling in the world.
“We just focused on the moment,” he continued. “We knew it was important to get the win, and we just kicked it into overdrive. I kept thinking that we (the boys' tennis team) hadn't won a title in a long time, and I felt it was about time we bring one back to the school.
“This is amazing! I really can't believe it: A state championship with an undefeated record. It's unheard of.”
Senior co-captain Matt Meagher gave the Northmen a 1-0 lead after disposing of sophomore Dylan Jardon, 6-1, 6-2, at No. 2 singles, but – minutes later – Chofay walked off the court with that decision over Lachance, and Narragansett senior Mike Cournoyer mustered a 6-1, 6-3 victory over senior co-captain Dalton Kell at third singles.
“This (watching) makes me much more nervous than if I was still playing, especially hearing the (other) scores from my coaches,” Meagher grinned as he watched a pair of doubles contests unfold. “I heard our first and second doubles were in the third set, and that the No. 3 doubles was losing and would probably go to a third.
“As for me, I'm really happy with the way I played. I got to some balls that I don't usually get to, and I think that was just because my adrenaline was pumping. I was really excited.”
He became more so when the premier doubles duo of seniors Keila Strick and Devan Dube eked out a tight 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 verdict over senior Dan Stern-Lonczak and sophomore Jack Hall.
That knotted the match at 2-2.
“They were a tough team; in fact, the toughest we've faced all season,” Dube indicated. “In the second set, we were down, 3-0, and we tried to rally, but we didn't. I know Keila was getting frustrated because a lot of returns were sailing long. I just told her, 'Let's just make it to the third set and start anew.' We did, and we just rolled from there. We both settled down.
“We felt we really needed to win our match,” he added. “I mean, we were ranked as the best doubles team in the state in Division III, and we needed to play like it. In the end, we did.”
Offered Strick, also the NSHS Class of 2013's valedictorian: “This feels good. We really wanted to finish with a perfect record. Tennis is kind of a low-key sport at our school, but – to our team – winning the championship means everything.”
Head coach Matt Pavao admitted he, assistant Jennifer Brodeur and the kids all talked about the amazing run the basketball team (26-0) had made this past winter; the talk came more often as the Northmen racked up win after win.
“I know my No. 1 was on that team, and (Lachance) was also on the unified basketball team,” Pavao said. “He wanted to go out with three championships, so he talked about it all the time … We knew Narragansett had a really good team. We had beaten them, 5-2, during the season, so my only real worry was the nerves.
“I felt if we played the way we were capable, we could win it, but if the nerves crept in, we'd be 10-15 percent worse. I saw a little of that, the kids being nervous, but they fought through it.”
He laughed when asked if he thought Degrange would provide N.S. with the clinching point.
“I thought initially it was going to be Ben, but those singles points were taking forever, so I went back over to watch the third doubles,” he said. “Once they won that third set, I had to yell out, 'We did it!' because a lot of them were watching Ben's match. I just wanted to get the team's attention.”
Did he ever. The Northmen hustled through the gate near the court where Degrange and Lurgio had battled, then through another separating the singles' and doubles' competitions and mobbed Kasanovich and Soito.
“I thought the best part of all this was we battled back from the 2-1 deficit,” Pavao stated. “We lost to Middletown in the finals last year (4-3); that was after our No. 3 doubles team lost in a three-set tiebreaker, giving them the deciding point.
“For our third doubles team to clinch this, it's uncanny, it's unbelievable,” he continued. “I had told the kids before the match, 'It's championship or nothing. We had made it to the finals once, and we weren't going to lose it again.' I had a lot of faith in these kids.”
After he had accepted his gold medal, and the team its title plaque, Lachance grinned, 'It's not like the '07 Pats! We did it, thank God!'”
North Smithfield 4, Narragansett 2
Singles: Devon Chofay (N) def. Matt Lachance, 6-2, 6-4; Matt Meagher (NS) def. Dylan Jardon, 6-1, 6-2; Mike Cournoyer (N) def. Dalton Kell, 6-1, 6-3.
Doubles: Devan Dube-Keila Strick (NS) def. Dan Stern-Lonczak-Jack Hall, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3; Ben Stone-Adam Destefano (NS) def. Sajad Hosseini-Nick St. Laurent, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; Dan Kasanovich-Greg Soito (NS) def. Jay Deluca-Mackenzie Boutin, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.