DUNLAP — Sure, Fairfield’s Austin Christner, like almost any boys tennis player, would prefer to maul the ball.
But Christner prefers advancing in postseason even more.
“Everyone wants to go and crush the ball, but sometimes it’s not your best option,” the junior said after providing the clinching point with his 6-2, 6-2 win at No. 2 singles in the Falcons’ 3-2 Concord Regional semifinal victory Tuesday evening over Memorial.
“You gotta play smart, play to your strengths,” Christner said, “and I think I played a good match tonight.”
“Austin did a good job of being patient in a steady baseline-to-baseline match,” Fairfield coach Mike Filbrun said. “That’s something that takes some focus. It takes effort to be patient. Sometimes he just wants to win the point, but here a baseline-to-baseline rally was to his favor, and he still did a nice job picking his spots and being aggressive when he had the opportunity.”
The Falcons (20-2) earned a spot opposite Northeast Corner Conference rival Angola (19-4) in the regional final tonight, Oct. 3, at Concord.
It’ll be a rubber match of sorts. Fairfield beat the Hornets 3-2 during the regular season, but was outscored head-to-head by Angola 3-2 in the Northeast Corner Conference tournament. Angola took Nos. 1 and 2 singles both times, the Falcons took 3 singles and 2 doubles both times, and the teams split at 1 doubles.
“I know they’re going to want it real bad, and I hope we want it real bad, too,” Filbrun said.
Fairfield ended a glorious team season by Memorial, although Crimson Charger senior Mazin Hakim, with his 6-3, 6-2 win at No. 1 singles, earned a spot in individual tournament play this evening against Bethany Christian senior Nate Brendle.
The Chargers (14-5) were coming off their first sectional title in boys tennis in 35 years.
“This season was just unbelievable,” Memorial coach Mike Hartnett said. “The guys performed so well, and it’s going to be hard to look at them and talk knowing it’s the last time.”
Hartnett said his players were committed in the offseason to improving their games because “they knew they had a special group, and it paid off.”
“I think so,” Hartnett said of whether nerves came into play Tuesday, “just because it was new ground for us.”
The Falcons rolled to convincing victories at both doubles spots before Hakim closed the gap to 2-1.
Christner then finished the clincher before the Chargers’ Chirag Patel capped off a 6-7 (7-9), 6-3, 6-2 win at 2 doubles.
Hakim improved to 18-4, while fellow seniors Spenser Gilbert and Patel closed at 18-4 and 19-3, respectively.
For Fairfield, senior Jordan Hochstedler stands 15-9 at 1 singles, Christner 20-3 at 2 and senior Landon Knepp 15-6 at 3. Dillon Lockwood and Taylor Yoder are 15-8 at 1 doubles, and Marcus Rodes and Adam Yoder 18-2 at 2.
In individual tourney doubles play Tuesday, Goshen’s Sylas Buller and Sam Stegelmann downed Central’s Riley Futterknecht and Alex Moon 6-4, 6-0 to earn a 5 p.m. match today opposite host Concord’s T Cunningham and Trevor Warren.
Whether that match is for the individual sectional doubles crown will depend on how Angola’s top pair does in team competition. If Angola wins the regional and/or its No. 1 doubles pair loses, then the Concord/Goshen doubles survivor is the champion. Otherwise, today’s winners play Angola Thursday.
Singles is the same scenario for Hakim and Brendle given that Angola’s top singles player, Jake Stump, is still alive in postseason.
Fairfield 3, Memorial 2
Mazin Hakim (M) def. Jordan Hochstedler 6-3, 6-2. Austin Christner (F) def. Spenser Gilbert 6-2, 6-2. Chirag Patel (M) def. Landon Knepp 6-7 (7-9), 6-2, 6-3.
Taylor Yoder/Dillon Lockwood (F) def. Elliott Denton/Trevor Tavallali 6-1, 6-3. Marcus Rodes/Adam Yoder (F) def. Stephen Tefft/Jonathan Bailey 6-0, 6-0.
Other semifinal: Angola 5, East Noble 0.
Records: Fairfield 20-2, Memorial 14-5, Angola 19-4, East Noble 10-8.
Next: Fairfield vs. Angola today, Oct. 3, in Concord Regional championship, 5 p.m.