By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
TROY — After the final return by his opponent landed short to put an end to a bitter and hard-fought three-set marathon match at first singles, Troy’s Nathan Kleptz led out a bellow filled with jubilation, frustration and a healthy dose of relief.
With the match tied 2-2 and a share of the Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division title on the line, Kleptz battled back from down a set and down 4-1 and 6-5 in the third, winning the match at first singles in a tiebreaker over Tippecanoe’s Colin Achterberg to seal Troy’s 3-2 victory over the Red Devils Friday at Tippecanoe Middle School, giving the Trojans at least a share of their fourth straight division title along with a chance to clinch it outright next week.
The win makes Troy 15-2 overall and 9-0 in the GWOC American North, while Tippecanoe — which could have played spoiler and forced a three-way tie atop the division with a win — fell to 13-4 overall and 7-2 in the North.
“I’m just happy for the kids,” Troy coach Mark Goldner said. “Nathan could have quit. He was very frustrated today and didn’t play his best … but you know, he came through.”
“To be honest, I knew our boys could compete with Troy,” Tippecanoe coach Kaci Matthews said. “I think they can compete with anybody, and they put themselves in a position (to play for a share of the division title). Troy’s just a phenomenal team coached by a phenomenal coach. It’s just a testament to what coach Goldner has built at Troy over a long period of time. He’s got a great program, and it’s one we aspire to be like. He gives us something to chase.”
With Troy winning at second singles and first doubles and Tippecanoe winning at third singles and rallying to win at second doubles, though, it all came down to Kleptz and Achterberg’s match at first singles, a match that was filled with just about everything.
“I think the wind was kind of an equalizer today for them, but Nathan hung in there and won it,” Goldner said.
The wind — which randomly blew heavy gusts and affected balls in the air all day long — played a role on every court, but nowhere more so than at first singles. With Kleptz’s heavier ground strokes nullified, Achterberg took the advantage in the first set with solid net play and by moving Kleptz all over the court. And on set point, Kleptz hit a seemingly easy return down the line, only for a sudden blast of wind to push it way wide, and Achterberg claimed the first set 6-4.
After falling behind 2-1 in the second, Kleptz got on a roll and won five straight games to even the match up, winning the set 6-2. But a contentious call on that set point, with both coaches called over to settle the dispute, deadened Kleptz’s momentum a bit, and Achterberg jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the third.
Kleptz began to fight back, though, cutting the lead to 4-3, holding serve to stay alive down 5-4 and breaking serve to even the set up at 5-5. Another contentious call forced both coaches to be called in as line judges, and after fighting off three deuces, Kleptz dialed up two big first serves to go up 6-5. Achterberg answered, though, holding his serve at love to tie the score at 6-6 and force a tiebreaker for the North title.
Kleptz won the first two points on big plays at the net and, after Achterberg got on the board at 2-1, got a little help from the net chord to take a 3-1 lead. Kleptz’s lead grew to as big as 5-1, but Achterberg won two straight to remain in contention before Kleptz forced a pair of errors to close out the match 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3).
“What a phenomenal match,” Matthews said. “I think the great thing was, no matter what the outcome was, we got to see great tennis and great competitors. That final match highlighted that, the competitiveness and the will to win. They knew what was on the line, and Nate just came out on top.”
First singles may have stolen the show, but it wasn’t the only match.
Troy’s Jackson Goodall won in straight sets at second singles, holding off a second-set challenge to defeat Christopher Nichols 6-2, 7-5. And at first doubles, Sean Dippold and Noah George swept David Shininger and Levi Berning 6-2, 6-3.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Jackson at second singles. He played a great match,” Goldner said. “And I’m really happy, as happy as can be, with first doubles, Sean and Noah, coming through today. I’ve been on those guys, and to see them come through today, it really makes me feel good.”
Tippecanoe’s Blake Moran — whose clutch win helped the Red Devils defeat a talented Milton-Union team 3-2 last week — swept Genki Masunaga at third singles, 6-2, 6-1. And at second doubles, Jack Thompson and Luke Blake rallied from a set down and a big second-set deficit to win in three, 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.
“Second doubles, even though they lost, they fought and hung right in there,” Goldner said. “It was a good team win.”
“I’m just very proud of all my boys, for putting themselves in a position to battle with Troy for a piece of the GWOC North,” Matthews said.
Troy can now wrap up its fourth straight outright GWOC American North title Tuesday when it takes on 1-12 Piqua, while Tippecanoe will host Butler on Tuesday.
Contact Troy Daily News Sports Editor Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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