Focused Panthers take control of conference

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To gauge how important Tuesday’s match was against Hammonton for the Middle Township High School boys tennis team, all you had to do was witness what the team did Monday.

Sure, the Panthers looked solid in making quick work of Wildwood Catholic, collectively losing just one game over 10 combined sets in a 5-0 victory over the Crusaders that took only about 30 minutes to complete.

But it was what the team did after that match that was even more impressive.

Following the win, Middle returned to its home courts just outside the high school and practiced for two hours, sharpening their skills for their most important match of the season against the Blue Devils.

That extra work paid off. Middle posted a 4-1 victory that places the team in firm control of the Cape-Atlantic National Conference. The Panthers have won the conference title in each of the last three seasons.

“I’m ecstatic right now with how we’re playing,” Middle coach Matt Gilbert said earlier this week. “We went back home (after Monday’s match) and practiced. Our boys are always on the court. They’re definitely focused. I couldn’t ask for a more dedicated group of players. They put in long practices on the weekends and after school. They’re definitely putting in the work. I hope it pays off.”

It certainly did against Hammonton.

Middle won all three singles matches and at first doubles against the Blue Devils. Zack Novick won in straight sets at second singles, while twin brother Jeremy and Alijah Broadnax took three-set victories at first and third singles, respectively. Jeremy’s match against Pete Lancetta was particularly close, as he posted a 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) decision. Broadnax lost a first-set tiebreaker but then rallied to win the final two sets rather easily by scores of 6-1, 6-2 against Jonathan McCarthy.

Tanner Kerr and Dini Ukella scored a 6-2, 6-3 win at first doubles. Middle’s second doubles team of Ben Bright and Andrew Hoy suffered its first loss of the season.

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