Center Grove boys tennis wins regional semifinal

As one of two seniors in the starting lineup, Center Grove No. 1 doubles player Bennett Strain is pleased with how his young teammates are responding in the postseason.

“They all like to compete,” Strain said of a starting lineup that includes three freshmen. “We’re all starting to realize we have the chance for a good state run. I value that. It’s really important for me as a senior that they really want to put their all into it. I’m excited about that.”

Host Center Grove shut out Perry Meridian 5-0 Tuesday in a regional semifinal. The No. 11 Trojans will try for their fifth straight regional title today against Franklin Central, which pulled out a 3-2 win over Triton Central in the other semi.

“In the regional, just like sectionals, we’re just trying to take care of business, finishing points,” Strain said. “We’re working on playing aggressive going in the championship and the semistate, which would be a big match. We’re trying to stay in that tournament mindset.”

Strain and sophomore Max Williams were 6-1, 6-3 winners over Perry Meridian’s Sang Thang and Christenzio Salemi.

“I thought No. 1 doubles played well,” Center Grove coach Ivan Smith said. “I thought they were a little more patient and tried to hit more balls in the court, which enabled them to play better.”

Strain said the duo’s chemistry has kept improving.

“It was learning what each of us does and how we like to serve the ball,” Strain said. “It’s just meshing together. Keeping the same energy improves our game a lot. (The coaches) set up with a pretty difficult schedule to learn how to compete with really good teams. Even when we lost against the tougher teams, it benefits us with the teams coming up. Right before the tournament, we played in the Trojan Classic and only lost to Carmel. We beat Jasper, which beat us earlier in the season. We beat Homestead, and that’s a good team.”

Center Grove’s top two singles players, both freshmen, breezed to easy victories against the Falcons. Tyler Lane topped Isaac Linn 6-1, 6-0 at No. 1 and Daksh Patel dropped just one game in the second set at No. 2.

“They both got off to a good start and didn’t lose focus,” Smith said of Lane and Patel.

Trojans sophomore Loc Pham defeated Jackson Justice 7-6 (7-5), 6-0 at No. 3 singles. It was Pham’s first varsity match in place of junior Evan Davis, who sat out with an injury.

“I think Loc was pretty nervous and that kid was hard to play,” Smith said. “It seemed like Loc had to hit 20 balls to win a point. Then he just got a little more relaxed in the second set.”

Smith said Davis has been battling ankle issues, but he hopes to have him back today or in Saturday’s semistate if the Trojans advance.

Center Grove’s No. 2 doubles duo of freshman Carson Bush and senior Connor Smith beat Kolton Wright and Bradford Terry 6-2, 6-4.

“The No. 2 doubles team had some loose points but right at the end they held on,” Smith said. “They won the last two games where it could have turned and maybe gone into a third set.”