Sabers dominate ConVal to reach semifinals

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Souhegan's Sam Goddard hits a tough shot charging the net during the Sabers' 8-1 Division II quarterfinal win over ConVal on Tuesday at Jasper Valley in Amherst.

AMHERST – Sometimes being a defending champion can be a bit of a burden. If so, it’s one the Souhegan High School boys tennis team has handled well this spring.

“It’s stressful but also not,” Saber No. 1 singles player Sam Goddard said after his team dispatched ConVal 8-1 in the Division II quarterfinals Tuesday at Jasper Valley. “We had a guaranteed one-two-three last year. That really propelled our season very easily.

“But without that guarantee. … it’s a little trickier.”

But that means that every spot on the ladder counts for the No. 3, 12-3 Sabers, who have juggled people in and out of the lineup all year. They’ll need everyone to be on point to beat No. 2 Portsmouth on the road in Thursday’s semis, which cruised past Oyster River 9-0 on Tuesday. Portsmouth (14-1) beat Souhegan 6-3 just over a week ago, and last year the Clippers were the Sabers’ semifinal victims here.

“Portsmouth will be an really tough match,” Goddard said. “They’ve got a solid singles lineup, and an extremely solid doubles lineup. So everyone’s going to have to be very on. But I think it’s doable.”

“Tough matchup,” Sabers coach John Kilgore said. “We were (down) 4-2 off singles, so we need one more singles to come out (their way).”

Kilgore knew his team could handled ConVal, but the gusty wind yesterday could have been an equalizer. However, it really wasn’t as Souhegan clinched the win with five of six singles triumphs.

Goddard beat Zach Kriebel 8-3 at No. 1, but the parade of wins began at No. 5 as Josh Lacaillade was the first off the court with an 8-2 win over Noah Krason. Cam Fritz won his match 8-3 for the Sabers at No. 6, filling in for Evan Loconto, who is away for family reasons.

Saber Kyle Gibson took No. 2 8-5, holding off ConVal’s Everett Landers after seeing Landers rally from 6-1 down to get within 6-5. And Michael Dodge won 8-5 at No. 4 over Jamison Coty.

ConVal’s only win on the day came at No. 3 where Taylor Burgess topped Josh Goddard, 8-3.

Doubles was a Saber sweep. Goddard/Pat Conway won a great match 9-8 (7-3 tiebreaker) at No. 1 over Kriebel/Burgess, while Gibson/Lacaillade bested Landers/Coty 8-5 at No. 2. Dodge/James Zeolie ralled down 6-5 to beat Jaimini Viles/Krason at No. 3 8-6 in the final match of the day.

“We got exactly what we wanted,” Kilgore said.

And that included seeing Sam Goddard looking healthy. He sat out the final couple of regular season matches with a leg injury, but looked fluid on the court Tuesday.

“This was my first day back,” Goddard said. “It felt – what’s the right word – unaccustomed to pushing off. But it seemed to work.”

Goddard played a lot of off-season tournaments and had a rigorous training schedule to turn into a solid No. 1, one of the state’s best tennis players.

“Sam’s a good player,” ConVal coach Mike Young said. “They have good tennis players. We have some good players. The bottom of the lineup is usually where you win these, and they’re still learning.

“But like you say, Sam does set the tone. It’s fun to watch him play. I tell my kids to watch him because he’s always in position to hit the ball.”

And Goddard wants to help put the Sabers in a familiar position on Thursday – back in the finals.