LEWISTOWN - As the No. 1 and 2 singles men for the Mifflin County tennis team, Matt DeBenedetto and Conner Saltzer are accustomed to working solo, but Thursday they made the switch to doubles action as the Huskies took on District 6 opponent Altoona for the final match of the regular season.
The Huskies lost 3-2 - the final came down to a close, three-set loss for Mifflin County's Ben Renninger in the No. 2 singles spot - but by the structure of the match, both teams were playing with an eye toward today's District 6 Class AAA doubles tournament.
In what might have been a preview of today's action, both Mifflin County and Altoona changed their typical lineup so as to put their normal No. 1 and 2 singles players against each other in the No. 1 doubles spot. This meant that DeBenedetto and Saltzer faced Ryan Good and Chad Allender - a match they lost 6-2, 6-3 - and Cody Donaldson and Nate Koller took the No. 2 doubles spot against Ahmad Mustafa and Matt Eiman, a match the Huskies dropped 6-2, 6-1.
Sentinel photo by BUFFIE BOYER
Mifflin County’s Clay Morgan looks to return the ball against Altoona Thursday in Lewistown.
In singles action, Clay Morgan and Will Fox sealed the Huskies' two wins for the day from the No. 1 and 3 singles spots, while Renninger faltered to Altoona's Sam Houk.
Mifflin County coach Glenn Kyle explained that Thursday's restructuring was not meant by either coach to diminish the importance of the match, but simply to refocus the emphasis on the district doubles competition.
Much of that focus turned to DeBenedetto and Saltzer.
For Saltzer, the loss was a miniature repeat of last week's district singles tournament, where he was eliminated from competition in the quarterfinals by Allender, but that's not to say he and DeBenedetto were without their chances against Allender and Good on Thursday.
The pair dropped the first set 6-2 and sunk into a quick 1-0 hole to start the second, but rebounded for 3-2 lead before the eventual 6-3 loss.
Saltzer said that while he has seen Allender before, the key to potentially beating Allender and Good is to work against Good's strengths at the net.
"I feel that Ryan Good, (Allender's) teammate, is a little bit better at the net, so I feel like if we attack him a little bit more at the net we can get more games than we did today," Saltzer explained.
Under the structure of today's tournament, no team will know where it is seeded until they all arrive, but even without knowing who they will face, DeBenedetto expects today's competition to be fierce.
"This is much more relaxed, so it's going to be much more tense (in districts). The stakes are going to be higher, so there's definitely going to be a lot more close points and close matches, so hopefully we do well," the Husky explained.
Saltzer was also optimistic about the pair's chances in districts, emphasizing the need for the partners to rely on each other even though they are both accustomed to playing solo.
"It's just being more patient knowing that you have a teammate there to kind of have your back," he said. "Sometimes you get a little bit impatient at the net - cheat a little bit - but if it doesn't work out you have to remember that your partner has your back at all times and you can rely on him."
On the singles courts, Clay Morgan had a close match against Jake Colledge that the Husky won 6-3, 6-4. Teammate Will Fox also got a decisive win against Tyler Rospoli, 6-1, 6-2.
By the time Morgan and Fox won, both doubles matches were finished in Altoona's favor, so Renninger had the potential for the team win resting on his match against Houk. But unfortunately, after Renninger tied the match at 1-1 with a 6-2 win in the second set, Houk reversed that score in the third set for the Altoona win.
The Huskies complete the regular season at a 12-6 mark overall. Today's district action will be held at Altoona.