BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — A good season just got better for the Ludington Orioles.
Propelled by a sweep in singles, Ludington defended its Division 4 regional tennis title Friday at Traverse City Central. The Orioles finished with 19 points. St. Francis was second with 16. Both squads advance to the state finals next weekend at Kalamazoo College.
"Two in a row — that's a good feeling," Orioles coach Cliff Perez said. "It's come down to St. Francis and Ludington the last two years. We've got a great rivalry going. I hope it continues."
Ludington reached the finals in seven of the eight flights, winning four.
"We have eight seniors on the team," Perez said. "We've had a great ride. We've been ranked as high as No. 3 in the state. We're undefeated in duals. We won our conference. It's been a great year. We couldn't ask for anything better."
St. Francis captured three doubles flights to challenge the Orioles.
"Our doubles did it today," Gladiators coach Annie Murphy said.
St. Francis had the No. 1 seed in all four doubles flights.
"We knew we were good in singles and St. Francis was good in doubles," Perez said. "On paper, if everybody held seeds, it would have come out a tie. We would have been happy with a tie, but a couple matches swung our way today and we lucked out, I guess."
"They're (Orioles) a tough team," Murphy said. "Maybe next year we'll beat them."
For the Gladiators, .Chase Richmond and Blake Bandrowski won No. 2 doubles, Evan Primeau and Corey Boudrie No. 3 and Cole Gingras and Jay Jones No. 4.
Richmond and Bandrowski defeated Ludington's Sam Nellis and Justin Markham 6-3, 7-6 in the finals.
"It was a difficult final," Bandrowski said. "It was our hardest match of the day. They're (Nellis and Markham) very good players. But we played well and pulled through."
Richmond and Bandrowski trailed 4-2 in the second set.
"Getting up to the net was definitely a key," Richmond said. "We put them more on the defensive."
Bandrowski played No. 3 singles last season while Richmond teamed with Cole Gingras at No. 4 doubles. Those two finished runner-up in the state, losing a three-setter in the finals.
Primeau and Boudrie also had to battle back at No. 3 doubles, downing Ludington's Yari Lynch and Chad Argue 7-5, 6-4.
"It could have gone either way," Primeau said. "The key, I think, was our determination."
"They were up 5-2 in the first set and we came back and took it," Boudrie said. "In the second set, we played our hearts out."
Primeau and Boudrie were both on the JV team last season. Now they're regional champions.
Gingras and Jones topped Ludington's Austin Sniedowski and Mason Chapman 6-3, 6-2 in the finals at No. 4.
"It was a good day for us," Gingras said. "We came out and wanted to play our best. We knew most of the teams. We played Ludington and Harbor Springs (during the season) and beat them."
Still, it wasn't quite as easy as the score indicates, Gingras said,.
"There were some scary moments," he said. "We were down a few times, but we came back."
Gingras is a senior, Jones a freshman.
"It was fun," Jones said. "This was my first regional tournament. We beat some good competition."
St. Francis' Dan Wilson and Tanner Hobbs reached the finals at No. 1 doubles, but fell to Whitehall's Zac Carlson and Kyle Zack 7-5, 6-3.
"No. 1 doubles had a really tough match in the finals," Murphy said. "It could have gone either way."
Ludington took all four singles flights. Jake Perez, the coach's son, beat top-seeded Sam Dart of Harbor Springs 7-5, 6-1 for the title. Dart was the defending champion. Spencer Knudsen defeated Leelanau County's Leif Mohrman 6-1, 6-0 at No. 2 singles. Jon Pugh rallied to beat St. Francis' Jack Krcmarik 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 at No. 3 singles. P.J. Lovato upended Harbor Springs' Ben Brushaber 6-0, 6-0 at No. 4.
Now it's on to the state finals. St. Francis tied for sixth last October, Ludington tied for 15th.
"Our goal was to make it to the state championship," Richmond said. "It should be exciting to see what happens there."
Ludington, meanwhile, beefed up its schedule to prepare for the state meet.
"The formula to do well at states is to be seeded," Perez said. "In order to be seeded you have to travel to the east side of the state. That's what we did. We went and beat Liggett in a dual. We beat Almont in a dual. We tied Armada 4-4. So when we go to the state seed meeting at least we'll be able to make comparisons. Last year nobody knew who Ludington was. They said, 'You might good, but who did you play?'"