PUNXSUTAWNEY — For the third time in four years, the Punxsy boys' tennis team will compete in the District IX Class AAA Team Tournament Championship.
Behind a No. 1 singles win by senior Dave Roberts and victories in both doubles matches, the Chucks defeated Bradford in the semifinals Wednesday in Punxsutawney, 3-2.
Just a year ago, Punxsy was playing without a senior and lost to Bradford, 4-1, in the team semifinals. This season, behind one of its deepest and most experienced squads under head coach Todd Heigley, the Chucks are in search of that elusive team championship.
Roberts registered Punxsy's first of three victories Wednesday, downing Dylan Nuzzo, 6-1, 6-0, in the No. 1 singles match. Though he lost Monday, Roberts said that this has been his best week of tennis. He's peaking at the right time of the year.
"I felt I played really well. I was hitting every shot well, and my serves always felt like they were hitting in, too," Roberts said. "I think I'm just a lot more confident and focusing more on getting the shots back, and they're just going where I want to."
Leading the charge for the Chucks in doubles action was the undefeated duo of junior Tim Pearce and sophomore Mike Blose. Pearce and Blose improved to 5-0 on the season together with a 6-0, 6-3 triumph over Charles Fair and Dan Tingley.
Pearce, who joined Adam Murdock in Punxsy's only win over Bradford in last year's semifinals, said that the Chucks have a renewed confidence this season, considering all seven players have returned from last year's playoff team.
"We just picked up a new edge this year and came out with a chip on our shoulder from last year and pushed through it," Pearce said.
Although they are underclassmen, Pearce and Blose have been the glue that has held the Chucks (4-3) together this year. Pearce is 6-1 as a singles player, and Blose is 5-0 alone, and both have played well enough to put pressure on Punxsy's upperclassmen. All five of Punxsy's other playoff team members are seniors.
"They've consistently worked at things, and some of those underclassmen like Michael and Tim are pushing people," Heigley said. "They've done some of the seniors justice and have kept us in reality, I guess, as far as not looking too far ahead."
With Blose playing from the back line and Pearce competing at the net, Blose said that they have faith in one another. He also said that after competing at team districts as a freshman last year, he has become a lot more comfortable with a year under his belt.
"We both are confident with each other's play and trust each other," Blose said. "I think we're having a lot more fun this year. Last year was my first year, and as a freshman, I was playing districts and was a little tense. Now, I'm just going with the flow and having fun with it."
Another Punxsy tandem, of seniors Anthony Pascuzzo and Jacob Palaschak, had a successful day. The duo was just as decisive as Roberts, as it beat Conner Nickel and Alex McFarland, 6-0, 6-1.
Punxsy was competitive during both of its losses. At No. 3 singles, Andrew Carroll needed the tiebraker to put away Murdock.
Carroll won the first set, 6-3, before Murdock won the second set, 7-5. Once the tiebreaker came along, Carroll earned the 10-8 victory.
In the other singles match, Andy Eliason bested Brandon Bish, 6-4, 6-3.
The downfall for Murdock and Bish were their inability to hold onto leads. Bish led 4-1 during the first set before Eliason won nine of the next 10 games.
Murdock was ahead 5-2 during the second set, lost three-straight games, but won the final two games to split sets. But in the tiebreaker, Carroll rallied from a 7-4 deficit to win.
The Chucks will now prepare for the team championship match, which will begin at 3:30 p.m. next Wednesday against DuBois. Earlier in the year, DuBois beat the Chucks, 6-3.
DuBois has the edge on Punxsy so far this season, but the Chucks are confident that they can buck the trend of previous losses to the Beavers.
"I think we can do well if our singles guys can pull out some wins and our doubles can stay strong," Blose said.
"I think we have a good chance. I think our doubles are really strong this year," Roberts said. "If we can just get a win in singles, I think we'll be good."
Heigley feels his team's chances rest on staying consistent.
"The thing that's helped us out throughout the latter part of the year ... is being consistent and not trying to get too cute with shots," Heigley said. "If we try to play shot-for-shot with some of these DuBois kids, I think it'll be a long day for us. If we try to play within ourselves, I think we'll have as good of a shot as anybody."