Ultimately, the North Central Conference boys tennis championship came down to Brice Arnold and Seth Bryd, and the Upper Sandusky senior came through Tuesday.
Arnold topped Byrd at No. 3 singles, 6-2, 6-4, to give the Rams a 3-2 victory against Ontario that earned the Rams their first league championship since 1996 in the Northern Ohio League.
Byrd topped Arnold two out of three times prior, including most recently in the NCC tournament, but Arnold was in control this time the whole way through.
“It’s pretty fun,” Upper Sandusky coach Tony Cianciolo said. “The boys wanted it. We knew that Ontario would be the matches that we had to win that were going to be tight. We had a couple seniors step up and play really tough today and make it an exciting way to win the season.”
In a completion of a match started last Monday, Upper Sandusky quickly took a 2-0 advantage by coasting in the doubles matches.
The Rams’ No. 2 doubles team of Danial Maltsbarger and Evan Scheck already had a one-set lead and it did not take long for them to finish off Logan Wilson and Michael Bursek, 6-1, 6-2. It took only one point for the No. 1 doubles team of Tyler Rice and Seth Sprang to capture the first set and not much longer for them to take the second set to finish off a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
That left Upper Sandusky (16-1, 11-1 NCC) in need of just one more win, and with the top two singles players, Trevor Barth and Jacob Courtright, dropping their first sets, it was looking like that win would have to come from Arnold.
Arnold pulled out a three-plus hour win against Byrd the first time they met at home, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, but lost to him, 6-4, 6-3, the second time around at Ontario (10-2 NCC). Byrd also topped Arnold for the No. 3 singles championship in the NCC tournament, 6-4, 6-1.
“It came down to Brice again,” Cianciolo said. “Doubles were playing real well and we needed one of our singles to step up and Brice did it again. I think it makes it a great way for a senior to go out.”
By the end of Arnold’s match, though, it was looking like his win might not be needed after all. Barth dropped the first set to district qualifier Jacob Byrd, 7-6, with a 7-5 score in the tiebreaker, but Barth took control from there, winning the next set handily, 6-2.
Barth led the third set, 5-2, and it seemed he might finish off the Rams’ victory before Arnold. Jacob Byrd showed why he is a district qualifier and was the No. 1 singles champion in the NCC, however, rallying to win four straight games. Barth got the next one, though, to force another tiebreaker to determine the winner.
Ontario’s top player ran out to a 6-2 lead to get within one point of a win, but Barth fought back to win four points in a row, and he faced another match point at 7-6, coming up big again to knot the tiebreaker at 7. Jacob Byrd, though, finally got two points in a row to knock off Barth for the fourth time this year, although undoubtedly, Barth won more points than his counterpart in the match.
“You’ve got to give credit to Jacob Byrd,” Cianciolo said. “He’s a tremendous player. He’s playing (today) in the district tennis for singles. I think Trevor could beat him. He’s played him four times and played him tough four times and it just came down to the end and Jacob hit more shots than Trevor did.”
At No. 2 singles, Brandon Wagner downed Ryan Courtright, 6-1, 7-5. The two also had to complete the third set of a separate suspended match from April 15 at Ontario, that left the team mark tied at 2. Wagner also won that, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3, to give Upper Sandusky its only NCC loss of the year.
Longtime head coach Tom Needs stepped aside this year, but he stayed on as an assistant and was quite valuable in helping the Rams win the championship, Cianciolo said.
“I’m just glad Coach Needs came back because he got to be a part of it and he was a huge part of it,” he said. “He is the heart and soul of Upper Sandusky tennis. It’s great to have him be a part of it. The boys I don’t think would be here and I would not be here, without his knowledge.”
The season concludes for the Rams. The Warriors’ Jacob Byrd and Wagner both compete today in the district tournament at Port Clinton.
Upper Sandusky 3, Ontario 2
Singles: J. Byrd (O) d. Barth, 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 7-6 (9-7); Wagner (O) d. Courtright, 6-1, 7-5; Arnold (US) d. S. Byrd, 6-2, 6-4.
Doubles: Rice/Spring (US) d. T. Wilson/Hamel, 6-3, 6-2; Maltsbarger/Scheck (US) d. L. Wilson/Bursek, 6-1, 6-2.
Completion of suspended match
Ontario 3, Upper Sandusky 2
Singles: Wagner (O) d. Courtright, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.
By LONNIE McMILLAN