Saturday June 9, 2012

LEE -- With his boys tennis team up two matches in a rain-delayed Western Mass. Division III final, and his top singles player serving for the match and the championship, Lenox coach Phil Cohen couldn't hide his smile Friday.

A few points later, he didn't have to try, either. Avi Sternberg had won in straight sets, and the Millionaires had the sectional championship over South Hadley.

"I was feeling good, being 2-0 and seeing the position Avi was in at the time," Cohen said after Lenox clinched the championship. "I think he got a boost from that and was able to pull it out."

The Millionaires dropped only one set in five matches of a 5-0 sweep at Lee High School. Lenox will meet the Central Mass. champion -- who will be determined today -- in Monday's state semifinal round at Clark University in Worcester.

"It's all gravy from here," a still-smiling Cohen said. "If we can pull off a win in the state semis, that would be one of the best seasons we've put together."

The Millionaires lost no momentum after a one-hour weather delay, with No. 2 singles player Andrew Vickery bringing in the first victory (6-0, 6-3) over Chris Annis.

"I was a little slow. Could have used a full warmup," Vickery said. "I dropped the first game [after the delay], but came right back and won the second."

Isaac Gotterer and Connor O'Brien were next to finish, as the team dispatched Bobby Loughrey and Mikey Miele 6-4, 6-3. All eyes then turned to the first singles court, where Sternberg was finishing off Wil Vanderpoel.

Vanderpoel gave him a challenge, closing to within 3-2 in the first set, but Sternberg rolled from there, eventually winning 6-2, 6-2.

"Avi's really turned into a fantastic clutch player for our team," Cohen said. "The win against Monument was huge for us; he played well against Greylock yesterday. He's on fire. He's on a great winning streak and I'm proud of him."

Dan Palmer beat James Stawarz 6-2, 6-0 at No. 3 singles, and No. 2 doubles team Liam Gennari and Jasper Nash finished the sweep for Lenox, rallying from a one-set deficit to take a 4-6, 6-4, 10-3 win over Zaid and Ziyad El-Mallah.

All five matches were in the early games of the second set when lightning flashed, leading to an automatic 30-minute delay. Soon after that, a swift downpour soaked the courts, almost forcing the match to Berkshire West Athletic Club. However, Lee Athletic Director Art Reilly and a number of Lenox players manned the squeegees after the rain stopped, and play resumed on dry courts after an hour's break.

"We tried to keep them loose," Cohen said. "It's hard, because they're drinking sodas and eating snacks ... but I brought them in right before we resumed again and said, ‘These rain delays can be a momentum killer, but we're not going to let that happen here.' "

South Hadley coach Rick Pio was disappointed with the end result, but had no complaints about his players.

"We really needed to win doubles there. Our doubles teams were close, but not good enough," Pio said. "We were going to struggle to take a singles point.

"I think Wil played great there. He just played a player who's a lot better. He needs to keep the ball in play and chase down a lot of balls, but Avi's got a great game. I think [Wil] played fine. We're not disappointed with the way he played."

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Lenox 5, South Hadley 0

Singles -- 1. Avi Sternberg (L) d. Wil Vanderpoel 6-2, 6-2; 2. Andrew Vickery (L) d. Chris Annis 6-0, 6-3; 3. Dan Palmer (L) d. James Stawarz 6-2, 6-0.

Doubles -- 1. Isaac Gotterer/Connor O'Brien (L) d. Bobby Loughrey/Mikey Miele 6-4, 6-3; 2. Liam Gennari/Jasper Nash (L) d. Zaid El-Mallah/Ziyad El-Mallah 4-6, 6-4, 10-3.

To reach Matthew Sprague:
msprague@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6254.
On Twitter: @EagleSportsZone.