DUNLAP — For the last three years, Concord played Northridge in a boys tennis sectional finals. In each year, the Minutemen left with a trophy in their hands.
This year, Northridge flipped the script.
It was the Raiders who prevailed, 3-2, in the IHSAA sectional 37 championship match at Concord High School Thursday night. It’s the first sectional title for Northridge since 2015.
First-year Raider head coach Austin Christner was unaware of the rivalry between the two schools coming into the season, but knows exactly what it’s all about now.
“That regular season match was when I got acquainted with the Concord-Northridge rivalry,” Christner said. “So, I didn’t really know what I was getting into ... it’s a great rivalry. Concord is a great team. Just happened the match went in our favor tonight.”
The deciding match came at No. 1 singles. After Northridge senior Gabe Rodino won the first set, 6-2, Concord junior Bryson Schrock forced a second-set tiebreak. Schrock even faced match point a few times, but the junior fought off defeat to force the tiebreak.
“The first time they played, Gabe kind of handled Bryson a little bit,” Concord coach Todd Denton said. “But, (Schrock) went in with a little more game plan and was executing it very well today.”
Schrock took a 2-0 lead in the tiebreak before Rodino took over. The senior scored seven unanswered points, winning the tiebreak 7-2 and a sectional championship for his team.
“I was just trying to stay focused,” Rodino said. “I had a couple of match points coming into that tiebreak and was a little bit frustrated, but I had to keep that out of my mind and stay focused, play my game, play aggressive. (Schrock) was playing really well at the net and making a lot of good shots, putting those away.”
“I couldn’t think of anybody on this team we’d rather have out there,” Christner added about Rodino. “He’s a senior, he’s our best player, one of our leaders on our team. Just a guy that we know is going to compete as hard as he can and leave it all out there.”
Playing under the pressure is something Rodino enjoys.
“There’s a lot of pressure, but I like playing with it,” Rodino said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Winning a sectional title against Concord was extra special for Rodino, who’s a four-year varsity player. He’s lost to the Minutemen every year, so to finally breakthrough was big for the senior.
“They’ve been a really rough competition,” Rodino said. “We were really close to beating them my freshman year (Concord won 3-2 in 2016) and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t really close our sophomore or juniors years (5-0 and 4-1 in 2017 and 2018, respectively). They had a fantastic team.
“Just to come back and beat them my senior year is just phenomenal.”
Concord picked up the first two decisions of the night, as No. 2 singles player Mitchell Whitehead won 6-2, 6-1 and No. 3 singles player Nathan Schraw won 6-3, 6-1.
The Minutemen finish the 2019 season with a 9-9 record.
“It was very competitive. We gave them all they wanted, I know that,” Denton said. “We kept improving as the year went. I just got done telling these guys (after the match) that not one of them played varsity last year. And, for me to have a 9-9 team with this group, I’ll take it all day long with the heart and fight they put out there.”
Northridge picked up wins in both doubles positions, as the No. 1 pairing of junior Aaron Cripe and sophomore Evan Nay won 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 and the No. 2 duo of sophomore Collin Seegert and senior Cole Miller won 6-2, 7-5.
Winning both tiebreakers on the night is a testament to the players, according to Christner.
“Playing big points, for me it comes down to playing the right way and playing smart,” Christner said. “If you’re doing that, good things will happen. And, I think that’s what we did in the tiebreaks. We played smart, high-percentage tennis and it happened to go our way tonight.”
Northridge (11-5) will now play the winner of the East Noble sectional on Tuesday at the Concord regional. The regional also features the winners of the DeKalb and NorthWood sectionals.