The celebration finally began and Columbus East’s Neeraj Pandita was right in the middle.
Pandita’s victory helped the Olympians edge visiting New Albany 3-2 and clinch third place in the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament that concluded Friday.
With the match knotted 2-2, all eyes turned to Pandita as he battled the Bulldogs’ Nolan Keeler in the No. 3 singles slot to decide the outcome and potentially help the Olympians close their regular season on a high note.
The junior pulled out the first set 6-4 and then rallied from a 3-2 deficit to duplicate a 6-4 second-set victory. That clinched the contest for East, which finished the season with an overall 11-4 mark. The Olympians now head into next week’s sectional play with positive momentum.
“That was a big, big win for us,” said Olympians’ coach Jim Stone. “Neeraj knew we were all tied up and he handled the situation well.”
After opening the tournament with a win against Jennings County, East fell to Jeffersonville on Wednesday to drop into the consolation bracket against New Albany.
Stone said he was hoping his squad would bounce back and perform well.
JoJo Woolwine set the tone early for East, blasting Rohan Reddy 6-0, 6-0 in the No. 2 singles battle that lasted less than 45 minutes.
The top doubles team of Matt Furnish and Sammy Woolwine notched the Olympians’ second team point after crushing the tandem of Jacob Stevens and Nathan Johnson 6-0, 6-1.
The Bulldogs’ No. 2 doubles duo of Logan Conrad and Ryan Robison made things nervous for East by getting past Daniel Kuhlman and Austin Guse 6-1, 6-4.
Meanwhile the top singles showdown between Olypians’ senior Alex Galle and New Albany’s Logan Charboneau featured an array of blistering serves and powerful returns.
Already trailing a set, Galle took an early 2-1 lead in the second set but failed to maintain momentum and went down in straight sets 6-3, 6-2, setting up the finale for Pandita.
“There was a lot of good tennis played,” said Stone. “Our No. 1 doubles team played great and JoJo absolutely dominated his match.
“This is exactly what we need going into sectional.”
Panthers earn fifth
NORTH VERNON — Jennings County took the fifth-place match in HHC Tournament play by downing Madison 4-1.
At No. 1 singles, the Panthers’ Owen Land defeated Riley McGarry 6-4, 6-0 and Jennings County also took the No. 3 singles match as Austin Mills beat Jakob Jones 6-2, 7-6.
The Panthers dropped the No. 2 singles match as Madison’s Ceaton Bowman triumphed against Adam Jackson 6-1, 6-4.
In doubles, Jennings County swept both matches as Avery Johnson and Luke Ertel downed Christian Brown and Zach Burnett 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 while Justin Gasper and Bailey Wilder won against Patrick Grady and Clay Vaughn 6-1, 6-2.