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Harrison edges Giants for NCC title

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GIANTS: Courtney Kreischer returns a shot for Marion's No. 2 doubles team during the NCC championship match against Harrison on Saturday.
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GIANTS: Marion's Claire Hendricks watches her return shot against Harrison during the No. 1 doubles match of the NCC championship on Saturday.
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GIANTS: Marion freshman Jaden Sebastian hits a backhand return during her match at No. 2 singles against Harrison in the NCC championship Saturday.
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GIANTS: Marion girls tennis coach Doug Porter talks to the Giants after their 3-2 loss to Harrison in the NCC championship Saturday on Bill Beekman Courts.
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GIANTS: Kayla Dubuque serves up a point during her win at No. 1 singles during Marion's 3-2 loss in the NCC championship match against Harrison Saturday. Dubuque won her match, 6-1, 6-0.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

A shuffled lineup and spirited fight took the Marion girls tennis team to the brink of a North Central Conference championship Saturday on Bill Beekman Courts.

However, a late momentum shift in a rain-plagued third set at No. 1 doubles provided the decisive moment and 23rd-ranked Harrison (West Lafayette) defended its NCC title with a 3-2 win over the Giants in the finals.

Searching for way to find the three points required to win back the championship, Marion coach Doug Porter changed his lineup for the day, moving normal No. 3 singles player Jaden Sebastian to the No. 2 slot and putting two doubles player Sophie Schenck at No. 3 singles.

Claire Hendricks, the Giants’ usual No. 2 singles player, joined Sophia Porter at No. 1 doubles while Courtney Kreischer was dropped from one to two doubles with Anna Wuertley.

Marion breezed past Lafayette Jeff in the semifinals, dropping just eight games between the five matches in the 5-0 sweep.

And the Giants’ fight had the team score even at 2-2 against Harrison with only the No. 1 doubles match remaining. It was also tied at 2-2 in the the third set when players exited the court for the first of two 15 minute rain delays.

Once play resumed, Hendricks and Porter alternated game wins with Harrison’s Sydney Jacobsen and Jordan Johnson before the second delay. When the players returned for the match’s conclusion, the Marion duo moved in front 40-15 on Porter’s serve in the pivotal seventh game of the set.

But the Raiders rallied to force deuce, the first of three in the game, then broke serve for the 4-3 advantage and a huge shot momentum.

“In tennis that seventh game is the key game and we lost that seventh game, we had a 40-15 lead and didn’t hold serve," Porter said. "That was big momentum shifter. That turned the momentum in their favor and we never got it back. It was a big game.”

Harrison lost just one point over the final two games to finish off the 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 win and claim the NCC championship.

“It was a great championship match,” Porter said. “Coming into this match I didn’t think it would come down to Harrison’s No. 2 singles player … and their No. 1 doubles team. Those have been their top two positions, two strongest positions all year.

“Here we are battling with them in those two positions and the last two spots on the court, we just needed one of them to win,” he added. “We were in a position to win one doubles and to take two singles to a third set. We played really hard and played well at both those spots and just weren’t able to come up with a victory. We played our hearts out at those spots and it just wasn’t quite good enough.”

Sebastian, a freshman for the Giants, fought tooth-and-nail with senior Peppi Kaulo, a foreign exchange student from Finland, before succumbing 6-4, 6-4 in a match interrupted by the first rain delay. Sebastian swept her way to a 6-0, 6-0 win against Lafayette Jeff at No. 2 singles.

“She player her best tennis of the year today,” Porter said of Sebastian. “Against Lafayette Jeff she played great tennis and then (against Harrison) she was down 3-0 both sets and fought back. She had a couple chances to make it 5-all in the first set then before the first rain delay and it was 30-all down 4-5.

She was right there and just played outstanding tennis today,” he continued. “She’s playing her best tennis at the right time this season.”

The Giants moved in front of Harrison, 2-1, on the strength of Kayla Dubuque’s 6-1, 6-0 win over Wesley Bradley at No. 1 singles while Kreischer and Wuertley earned a 6-1, 7-6 (10-8) win at No. 2 doubles.

Harrison’s Sammy Moore earned the Raiders first win with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Schenck at No. 3 singles. Schenck took a 6-4, 6-0 semifinal win over Lafayette Jeff.

Hendricks and Porter won 6-1, 6-0 while Kriescher and Wuertley won 6-0, 6-1 in the semifinals against Lafayette Jeff.

“We switched up our doubles combinations today to try to match up against Harrison’s strengths, I don’t want to say weaknesses because they really don’t have any weak spots,” Porter said. “All of our girls are playing well right now and we’re in a pretty good position heading into the tournament.”

Dubuque continued her stellar spring and played two singles matches in a day for the first time since returning from a knee injury she suffered near the end of last season. Dubuque took a 6-1, 6-1 decision over Lafayette Jeff in the semifinals.

“I told our girls they played they hearts out and when two teams are evenly matched like this it just comes down to a couple of points here and there,” Porter said. “(Harrison) capitalized on a couple big points and that was the difference.

“We’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. I told them I didn’t think the match would come down to those two courts, (Harrison's) two strongest positions,” he continued. “I think their No. 1 doubles team has only been beaten one time this year and that was to Zionsville. They’ve beaten some good teams, so for us to battle them and have it at 3-all in the third set is a good testament to Claire and Sophia. Claire normally doesn’t play doubles and she stepped in and did a good job today. We did well. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m proud of our effort.”

Marion (11-5) will host Yorktown on Monday at 5 p.m. The Giants will also learn on Monday who they’ll face in the Marion Sectional semifinals, which begins Wednesday on Beekman Courts. The sectional championship will be Thursday.