---- — By Brian Holtzapple
For The Daily Item
DANVILLE -- Both Danville and Milton entered Wednesday's Heartland Athletic Conference Division I matchup searching for that first win to get their respective seasons going in the right direction.
It turned out to be a close battle between the Ironmen and the Black Panthers, but ultimately one team was going to leave the Danville Middle School tennis courts with two losses to start the year.
With the match tied at two wins apiece, Danville sophomore Alika Lopatka pulled out a three-set decision at No. 3 singles over Milton's Julia Spear to give the Ironmen a 3-2 victory.
"I was a little nervous there, but I was really glad that Alika carried it through and did a good job," said Danville coach Mary Jo Baum. "I'm thrilled. (This victory) should carry us to the next match at Lewisburg on Monday.
"We're just going to take it one match at a time," added Baum. "(This win) should motivate them. I think that first loss (a 3-2 defeat to Jersey Shore on Monday) was tough, so now that we got a win under our belts I think we're ready (to go)."
Although Danville (1-1) picked up decisive wins at both No. 1 and 2 singles to take a 2-0 lead, Milton (0-2) tied the match behind a pair of tough wins in doubles.
"The nice thing is we bounced back after a tough (5-0) loss on Monday to Williamsport and won the number of games that we did," said Milton coach Aaron Slusser. "The match was close."
At No. 1 doubles, Hunter Metzger and Jenna Bowersox beat Amber Renz and Jessica Yoder, 7-5, 7-5.
And in the second doubles match Danville's Abbey Culver and Maya Shenoy put up a valiant effort, but Milton's tandem of Caylee Pinchak and Taylor Wolfe still managed to come away with a 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory.
"I was happy with doubles. Both of them were down at one point and they rallied back to win," said Slusser. "We're starting to come together. Everybody is young and the girls are playing in positions they haven't played before, so it's getting there."
"I told (my doubles players) that they played a good match, especially considering they haven't practiced together all that much," said Baum. "I just need to work with my doubles. That's my focus."
The match then was in the hands of the young Lopatka, whose mettle was tested after Spear took what could have been a demoralizing 7-6 (7-6) win in the first set.
Lopatka bounced back with a 6-2 win in the second set to force a deciding third. And with her team's attention solely on her, Lopatka clinched the victory for the Ironnmen with a 6-1 win over Spear.
"I could tell she was drained from the heat, and I think she does get down on herself and she has to pick herself up," said Baum. "With everybody watching and rooting her on helped too, but I think she knew she could do it. I'm proud of her.
"Alika practices a lot and she's really dedicated to this sport, so I think she'll do all right," added Baum.
In the first two singles matches, Danville got a 6-0, 6-2 win from Linda Yang over Leah Tillinghast; and at No. 2 Christina Murphy beat Alaina Houtz, 6-3, 6-2.
"(Linda and Christina) really did a good job. Linda is in the No. 1 spot for the first time, and Christina too. I'm thrilled," said Baum.
A little more work and getting a better familiarity in their new spots would serve his singles players well, according to Slusser.
"The biggest thing with our singles, and the girls that are playing singles this year other than Leah (No. 3 a year ago), is that they were all doubles players," said Slusser. "So they are getting used to playing by their self, and it's a totally different game for them.
"They just need a little more work. They'll get there," Slusser added.