Wirth the wait Township outlasts Hempfield for L-L team tennis title
BY TIM GROSS, Sports Writer
A crowd gathered alongside the last court on the north end of Warwick's tennis complex Tuesday, clapping and cheering as Hempfield's Kyle Lamb and Manheim Township's Ben Wirth traded volleys with the L-L League team title on the line.
Earlier in the afternoon, the crowd watched Hempfield's Derek Hagino take down Township's Bobby Belser at first singles. The crowd saw the Streaks' Griffin Clark sink Hempfield's Tommy Athey on court two. After the teams split two doubles matches, the players, coaches and spectators all drifted toward Lamb and Wirth as the remaining combatants matched inside-out forehands to shouts of "Yeah, Ben!" and "Good shot, Kyle!"
"I like playing in front of a crowd," Wirth said after outlasting Lamb, 6-2, 6-3 at third singles to give Township the 3-2 victory. "I think it makes it more fun, more competitive."
As Wirth soaked in the energy of the crowd, Township coach Doug Pennington saw a spike in the sophomore's play.
"I thought he ran a little harder," Pennington said. "Balls that I thought he might give up on he legged them out. That put pressure on the other player to hit an even better shot on the next one."
Up 4-2 in the second set and 15-0 in the game, Wirth reached for a well-placed shot and flicked it just over the net, forcing a wayward return from the Hempfield senior and a burst of cheers from the crowd enjoying the players' persistence.
"They hit everything back," Melinda Bell, the first-year coach for Hempfield (9-2), said of Wirth and Lamb. "They're not going to hit a lot of winners, but they're going to get a lot back. Each one will wait for the other player to make mistakes. When you put two kids like that against each other, it's going to be a good match."
Wirth agreed, comparing his style to Lamb's.
"We both place the ball," he said. "We're not huge power hitters like Hagino."
Hagino, undefeated in league singles this year, overwhelmed Belser, 6-0, 6-0, for the first point of the afternoon using a flurry of serves and other strong shots.
"(Hagino's) timing is impeccable," Pennington said. "Bobby was hitting high balls to keep it out of his power zone, and he could time it that well and nail it."
Hagino, the top seed in the league singles tournament, scheduled to begin Thursday, thought he played as well as he has all season.
"My serve's picking up right now," he said.
Clark evened the score at singles for Township (11-0), defeating Athey, 6-1, 6-2.
"He could play No. 1 for a lot of schools," Bell said of Clark. "He's a kid who hits so much back. He moves well. For his size, he moves very well around the court. He plays smart. He had Tommy on the ropes pretty much the whole time."
Pennington said the freshman's left-handedness might have disrupted Athey.
"(Clark's) a very good left-hander," Pennington said. "All the top players in the league are right-handed this year. I think Tommy might not have seen a lot of really strong lefties."
In doubles play, Township's John Kitsock and Dan Ansel frustrated Nate Martinez and Calvin Athey, 6-2, 6-1, and Hempfield's Austin Kintner and Ryan Kassees defeated Tyler Levin and Ben Weiner, 6-4, 6-2.
As the crowd dispersed after Wirth's victory, after handshakes and pictures and promises of a post-match Rita's bus detour, Pennington reflected on the depth that powered the Streaks to their first L-L team championship since 2010.
"The guys are fairly all equal," Pennington said. "As you go down our ladder, we don't get weaker."