Conestoga Valley's Darren Mast collected himself during a break in the middle of the first set of the L-L boys' singles championship on a cool, gray afternoon. His opponent, Cedar Crest's Weston Fortna, stood by the gate, doubled over, talking to the trainer wrapping tape around his right knee.
Mast knew the L-L League Flight One Class AAA singles final, the culmination of the grind that is the league tennis season, was far from over.
"You know he's not going to give up," Mast said of Fortna. "You know you have to stay out there, and you have to fight. You can't let him get back in."
Fortna forced a fight that lasted two sets and a tiebreak, but Mast held on, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), to capture the league title Monday at Conestoga Valley.
The league's singles runner-up for the second straight year, Fortna felt the pop in his knee while jumping on a serve with the first set tied at 3-3.
"I don't know what happened," he said, "I tried to serve again, and it hurt a lot. I played the point, but I couldn't pivot my foot or anything."
The tape relieved some of the pressure. The trainer cleared him to play, and Fortna returned to the match.
"It was kind of motivating," Fortna said. "I figured, 'I just have to give it all I've got. I don't know if I can go much further.' "
While Fortna fought to figure out his knee's reliability on pushes and pivots, Mast took advantage, sweeping the rest of the set.
"It made me a little more consistent," Mast said, "trying to get him to move around a little bit more."
Fortna's adrenaline kicked in for the second set. He returned with a fury, overpowering Mast with aggressive serves.
"Once he started serving better in the second set," Mast said, "I had to try and do as much as I could with the returns."
Each time Mast threatened to pull away, Fortna answered with a rally. But each time Fortna reached for momentum, he sent a forehand smash into the net or sent a ball just over the line.
"It came down to a battle of consistency," Fortna said, "and I thought I just made a few more errors."
Mast capitalized on the errors and made Fortna test the knee on softer serves late in the second set at the advice of Conestoga Valley coach Dale Gregg.
"I asked (Mast) to hit some flatter balls," Gregg said. "He did that, mixed it up a little bit and earned himself some more points."
But for every point Mast earned, Fortna fought back with one of his own, all the way to the tiebreak he knotted at 4-4.
"Every time you think you've seen it all from Weston in four years," Cedar Crest coach Mike Rohrbach said, "he finds a way to show you something else."
Mast broke free with a 6-4 advantage in the tiebreak. With the match on the line, Fortna returned a volley that floated toward the gray sky and landed just beyond the baseline to give Mast the winning point. The grind was over.
"I had some good matches," Fortna said. "I'm certainly not going to hang my head. I lost to a really good player."
The Class AA singles final featured two representatives from Lancaster Country Day, an independent from the L-L participating in the league tournament as a District Three qualifier. Blaise Casselbury continued his standout freshman campaign, edging Wes Davis, 6-3, 6-1.
"He's just a great player," Country Day coach Jim Phipps said of Casselbury, reflecting on the freshman's first grinding season against teams from the L-L League. "To stay focused throughout the season is tough, but it's paid off for him."
Casselbury, a participant in national tournaments, enjoyed the experience of winning the L-L championship, an experience his sister, Julia, earned in the girls' bracket for the last three seasons.
"This was probably the most well-known event I've played," Blaise Casselbury said. "Everyone comes out to watch, which is pretty cool."
Manheim Township's Andy Moshos won Flight Two singles, and his teammate, Harrison Frankhouser, won Flight Four. Hempfield's Tom Athey won the Flight Three crown.
In doubles play, Hempfield's Andrew Clark and Derek Hagino defeated Moshos and David Musser for the Class AAA crown, and Davis teamed up with Austin Cook to deliver Country Day the Class AA title.