The scene unfolded under the lights Monday at Conestoga Valley's tennis courts. Hempfield's Andrew Clark and Derek Hagino outlasted Manheim Township's Dave Musser and Andy Moshos for the Flight One Class AAA Lancaster-Lebanon League doubles title. The temperatures dipped. The crowd thinned. The final point, the hugs and handshakes brought the curtain down on the final day of the L-L boys' tennis season.
After a loss to Cedar Crest - its first of the season - in the league team finals last Wednesday, Hempfield sent five players to the league singles and doubles tournaments. All five returned on that final day for flight championships or playbacks.
"What we want to do is build from that," said Hempfield coach Rob Bair. "I think it could serve to jump-start us pretty nicely as we go into district play."
For the Black Knights, district play begins with the District Three Class AAA team tournament and a 2:30 p.m. first-round match against Berks League runner-up Exeter Friday at Hershey Racquet Club.
Leading the charge into districts is the senior Clark, Hempfield's number one for the third straight year and the only returning top-five player from last year's league and district championship squad.
"He's the oak tree," Bair said of Clark. "We built the team around him."
Clark led the Black Knights to a 10-0 regular-season record in Section One and enters Saturday's district singles tournament (beginning at 1 p.m.) as one of six Class AAA entries from the L-L.
After losing to Cedar Crest's Weston Fortna in the league team final, Clark lost his singles semifinal match to Fortna and the third-place match to Musser to close out his L-L career.
"You're talking about three years at number one," Bair said. "That's a grueling schedule. You're playing the best that schools can throw at you every single match. He's held up remarkably well."
When Clark cracked the Black Knights' lineup as a freshman, then-senior Zach Carson served as his mentor and doubles partner.
This season, Clark passed the karma forward, teaming with the freshman Hagino.
"They're very even keel," Bair said. "I think they balance each other well. They communicate well with all the signals they're using. The freshman can check off the senior, and the senior can check off the freshman, which is fun to watch."
Hagino also occupied the number two singles spot, playing well enough to earn a bid in the district's Class AAA singles bracket, and won the fifth-place match in Monday's L-L Class AAA Flight One tournament.
"His volley game and his hands are quick," Bair said. "Very quick. We just have to allow for the fact that, yes, he's a freshman, but he comes with a lot of great tools."
In the postseason format - three singles and two doubles with no repeats for team matches - Clark and Hagino enter the district team tournament as singles players. Nate Martinez and Joe Kelly, victors in the Flight Two doubles final Monday, lead the Black Knights' postseason doubles campaign.
Wins from Martinez and Kelly, and Ben Ward and Austin Kintner, gave Hempfield a doubles sweep in last Wednesday's L-L final. The Black Knights' Tom Athey, a sophomore and eventual Flight Three league singles champion, lost to Crest's Ryan Zinn. Clark's loss to Fortna evened the match at two before Colin Muraika won a grueling 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 match over Hagino.
"Muraika just had Derek's number," Bair said. "He played a phenomenal match, and that was the difference."
Crest and Hempfield are at opposite ends of the district bracket, posing the possibility of a rematch in the finals.
"I'm not looking past anybody," Bair said. "Exeter is coming in pretty strong from Berks County."
But with the curtains closed on the L-L season, and the challenging campaign of a district title defense on the horizon, Bair knows not to look anywhere but in the moment. He lost his father, Robert, April 16.
In a galvanizing moment for Bair and Hempfield tennis, several players attended the April 21 memorial service to honor the support the elder Robert Bair gave them. An avid Hempfield athletics fan, Robert Bair watched the Black Knights edge Manheim Township in a pivotal Section One match three days before his sudden passing.
"He sat there through the whole thing," Bair said. "He just thoroughly loved that. He got into supporting the kids, and they knew he was out there, cheering them on."