LAPORTE — Tristen Poe did his best to clear his mind and focus on the task at hand, but the LaPorte senior couldn’t help but be lost in the moment Tuesday afternoon.
Poe and his No. 1 doubles partner Carson Stalbaum shook off a slow start against Valparaiso and recovered to win in three sets. It was Poe that was serving the final game of the match to secure the all-important third point as the Slicers went on to win 4-1 in the LaPorte Regional semifinals at Kesling Park.
Poe and Stalbaum came back to win their match over Valparaiso's Matt Levenda and Will Behrend 3-6, 6-2, 6-0, clinching the victory for LaPorte.
“That last point was just incredible,” Poe said. “We had that mentality that we were going to go out and win for our team. The last game was really nerve-wracking and there are times when I can let nerves get the best of me. When you have that many people out there watching, everything led up to this moment.”
LaPorte coach Don Varda came into the afternoon confident that the Slicers would have a strong chance to avenge a 3-2 loss to Valparaiso in the regular season, but it wasn’t looking good moments after Poe and Stalbaum begin their match.
“They had 12 unforced errors in the first three games alone,” Varda said. “They settled down over time. I was very confident that we’d play well today. The boys practiced really well. These are pressure-cooker matches and we made it clear that none of them could win it on their own. They all needed to play as a team.”
The Slicers (17-5) earned the first point of the match when Andrew Emmons edged Valparaiso’s Calvin McMurtrey 6-2, 6-3 at No. 1 singles. The Vikings (10-8) tied the match as Spencer Ross won 6-2, 6-1 over Graham Siefker at No. 2 singles. Laporte took the lead as its No. 2 doubles team (Brock Schultz, Liam Wolf) won 6-3, 6-4, but the celebration would have to wait as the remaining matches moved to a third set.
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Poe and Stalbaum broke the Vikings three times in the final set, earning a 6-0 sweep, and then Alex Ake held off Valparaiso’s Jacob Nightingale in a third-set tiebreak to give the Slicers the win.
“I can’t even describe this feeling right now,” Stalbaum said. “The team is everything. We have been building off each other in practice. We just want to keep winning.”
LaPorte will face South Bend St. Joseph on Wednesday afternoon after the Indians knocked off Penn 4-1. The Slicers will be aiming for their first regional title since 2007.
The Mustangs and Crown Point won their semifinal matches 5-0 to advance to Wednesday's 4:30 p.m. title match. Munster swept Morton 5-0, while Crown Point swept Merrillville 5-0. Munster is aiming for its 36th overall title and fifth straight. Crown Point has two previous crowns, the last coming in 2014.