Belmont High Boys’ Tennis Grind Out 5-0 Playoff Win Over Marblehead; No. 1 Duxbury Up Next

Photo: On to the Elite Eight for Belmont High Boys’ Tennis

While the score line might read Belmont High Boys’ Tennis pitching the 5-0 shutout of Marblehead High in the Sweet 16 of the MIAA Division 2 state tournament, for much of the day, the action at Belmont’s Winn Brook tennis courts resembled a street brawl.

“I called it a boxing match,” said Belmont Head Coach Dave Benson as the 8th-seeded Marauders (13-6) has reached the Elite Eight for consecutive years. “Some punches to the face, then back with some body blows, and finally some knockout punches. So it was an impressive showing against a really good Marblehead (16-4) team.”

The prize for its second shutout performance will be meeting the Division 2 number-one seed and 20-1 Duxbury on Saturday, June 10, at 5 p.m.

“That’s a fabulous opponent. We’re honored to play them, the first seed. I’ve got them circled on my draw,” said Alek Karagozyan, Belmont’s senior co-captain and the program’s talisman for the past three seasons. “I’m excited for what we have to offer them.”

In the match in which the top singles and doubles were forced to battle it out in their respective matches, the Marauders relied on its lower-tier players to provide the needed early edge in the contest. Third singles Julian Wong was having a grand ol’ time running the court with sophomore enthusiasm against his 10th-grader opponent.

“I just came in thinking I’m just gonna play my game and play how I know how to play,” said Wong, who won in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2. “I had some trouble in the first set, but after I figured out the weaknesses of his play, it helped me a lot.”

Second doubles, made up of youngsters Henry Moriarty and Soyam Pokharel were on the front foot the entire match, although it got a bit squirrely finishing off the first set as Pokharel’s serve went south. “I got a little bit nervous, but we won the set, and that’s what counts,” he said.

“Coach has been motivating us to stay strong no matter how close the game is. Always stay positive, play our game. I think we did pretty well today, and we capitalized at the end,” said Pokharel as he and Moriarty won in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1.

But for the top-line matches, it was anything but a romp as the three were more akin to the battles depicted in “Game of Thrones.” On the left side of the Winn Brook court, Belmont’s top two singles were in for grinders against tough opponents as they showed their contrasting styles on the court; Karagozyan’s street fighter persona with his emotions out there (“Oh my gosh!” “Come on!” followed by his trademark fist pump) while the quiet Osborn took a more Zen-like “living in the present moment” approach to his match.

Karagozyan’s Marblehead opponent forced Belmont 1 to generate nearly all the power strokes in rallies that averaged in the double digits as the two-setter lasted well more than 90 minutes.

“I used to play like that, so I know what kind of mental effect it has on an opponent, and I have to give full credit for really making me doubt myself a little bit sometimes,” said Karagozyan. “But I forced myself to put my head up, and convert my serve and my forehand under pressure.”

The cumulative impact of Karagozyan’s shot selection and power strokes beat down his Marblehead opponent as he collapsed with cramps in both legs at 5-3 in the second set. During a delay for treatment that lasted 20 minutes, Osborn quickly took his third set decider.

“It was tough because I could play a good point and he would hit like an insane shot. Then I’d play a bad shot, and he’d have a bad return. He just got kind of annoying to deal with because neither of us got into a rhyme,” said Osborn, who won 7-5, 5-7, 6-2. Karagozyan would win the two final points to take the W, 6-4, 6-3.

But it was first-doubles – comprised of Belmont’s two Bens: senior co-captain Packard and junior Trost – that earned the title “True Grit” for its marathon. The pair admitted their first set was “terrible,” with more unforced errors than you could find in an unforced error factory. “I was really kind of tense the first set, and it showed,” said Trost. After dropping the first set 3-6, the decision was made at the start of the second set to throw away the playbook and revert the match into a point-by-point grudge match.

“In all honesty, that second set, we just grinded it out,” said Trost. “We just stepped in our shoes and stuck it out,” said Packard, ending into a long tiebreaker in which Belmlont gutted out the win, 9-7. The third set saw Packard and Trout break twice and survive, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1.

Belmont will have a quick turnaround before spending the day traveling down to the South Shore to take on the Dragons.

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