By Rob Kiser
TROY — Maybe Lehman Catholic senior Griffin West just needs to lose the first set to bring out his best tennis.
In the Division II sectional semifinals and finals Saturday at Troy Community Park, West dominated the final two sets of both matches to become Lehman’s first singles sectional champion since Christian Henderson.
He will be joined at district Thursday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason by the doubles team of Sam Ritze and Danny Lins, who finished fourth Saturday.
“Winning the sectional was (the goal),” West said. “Especially after last year, when I finished fourth and had to play a sectional champion at district.”
And it brought tears to the eyes of Lehman coach Tim Ungericht.
“That’s my first sectional champ,” the third-year coach said. “I know my kids don’t get emotional, but I do. That’s big. You play a fourth-place finisher from another sectional.”
In the championship match, West faced Jacob Calhoun of Northeastern, who was unseeded.
“That kid is a good player,” Ungericht said. “He should have been seeded.”
And Calhoun used a lethal forehand to take a 5-2 lead in the opening set. He would hold on to win the first set 7-6 (7-3), before West took the final two sets 6-2, 6-1.
“I just started playing better,” West said. “I cut down on my misses. I changed my strategy a little bit.”
Which was to keep away from Calhoun’s forehand.
“If you noticed, we changed strategy,” Ungericht said. “The idea was to keep the ball out of the strike zone (Calhoun’s forehand). Griffin did a great job of mixing up his pace and keeping him off-balance. That’s where Griffin has really improved. I don’t think he would have had the maturity or patience to win that match a couple years ago.”
That was on display in his opening match as well.
Facing unseeded Josh Brown of Northridge, West won the first three games, only to lose the first set 6-4.
He responded by winning 12 of the final 15 games and taking the last two sets 6-3, 6-0 — before winning 16 of the final 20 games against Calhoun.
“In both matches, he got the momentum at the end of the first set,” Ungericht said. “That is pretty impressive to dominate like that at this level.”
West said the semifinal match was similar — although against Brown, he was facing a guy who didn’t put a lot of pace on his shots.
“Really, it was the same thing,” West said. “I just started playing better and cutting down on my misses.”
West takes a 15-8 record into the district tournament.
“He ran off five wins here at the sectional,” Ungericht said. “He was 10-8, but we play a really tough schedule. A lot of people don’t realize that. Being an independent, we play a tough schedule that prepares them.”
Lehman’s doubles team came in with a 12-5 record, bur ran into two tough opponents.
The third seeds lost to top seed Nathan and Nick Brumbaugh of Milton-Union 6-1, 6-1 before dropping a 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4 decision to unseeded Colin Achterberg and Christopher Nichols of Tippecanoe.
“I am sad (about Saturday’s results),” Ritze said. “But, we still get to go to district. I am excited about that.”
“That’s been our goal all year,” he said. “We will be playing a sectional champion. We have nothing to lose. Just go have fun.”
“That’s what we always want to do, go out and have fun,” he said. “They came back to win that second set tiebreaker and they were one point from coming back from 5-2 down in the third set to tie it.”
Ungericht also credited assistant coach Mike Ritze for his team’s success.
“He is a calming influence on them,” Ungericht said. “He really is. The doubles team is going to face a tough match. Griffin (West) has a really good chance to win his first match.”
Even if he loses the first set.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.
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