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Boys' Tennis: Raptors come up short in tight championship match

East Ridge seniors (left to right) Cormac Dolezal, Nitin Venkatesh, Ben van der Sman and Evan Fridinger hold the Class 2A state second-place trophy after the June 7 championship match against Minnetonka. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Evan Fridinger returns a shot during the first doubles match he played with Elias Ramirez. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Ben van der Sman returns a backhand during his first singles match on June 7 in the Class 2A team championship match against Minnetonka. Blaze Fugina / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

The East Ridge boys' tennis team bet on its doubles lineup in the Class 2A championship match against Minnetonka on June 7 at the Baseline Tennis Center on the University of Minnesota campus.

Elias Ramirez, who played a majority of his matches at singles this season, switched to the doubles lineup to play alongside Evan Fridinger at No. 1 doubles.

With Minnetonka having talented players throughout the lineup, the move was made to help East Ridge counter with strong doubles teams.

Head coach Suzie Heideman recalled the conversation where she told Ramirez that him playing at doubles would strengthen the lineup. And he agreed.

"He was all-in," Heideman said. "He was like, 'Whatever's best for the team.' Which is the mentality I try to reiterate every time I make a decision."

East Ridge won two of three doubles matches, but it was not quite enough in a 4-3 loss to top-ranked Minnetonka.

The first doubles team of Ramirez and Evan Fridinger gave East Ridge its first victory with a brisk 6-0, 6-4 match.

After losing the first set 6-4, the second doubles team of Nitin Venkatesh and Caleb Fridinger came back to give East Ridge its third victory of the day. Venkatesh and Fridinger won the last two sets by scores of 6-4 in what ended up being the longest match of the day.

For seniors like Venkatesh, the match was the last opportunity to compete as part of the team. So he was determined to go out with a win.

"I said we were going to make this count, no matter what we were going to go down fighting," Venkatesh said about their comeback win. "And that's what we showed today. Even if we're down, we're going to come back and give it our all."

After losing the first set 7-5, the East Ridge third doubles team of Robert Hootie Lawrence and Cormac Dolezal came back to win the second 6-2. But the Minnetonka team of Adam Thompson and Christian Lund won the third set 6-2 to clinch a decisive fourth win for the Skippers.

Ben van der Sman was the lone winner in the singles lineup for East Ridge as he defeated Ben Wheaton 6-3, 6-1.

The top-ranked singles player also used his senior season as motivation.

"I just wanted to leave it all on the court, because obviously, this was the last high school match I'll ever have with the team," van der Sman said.

The second-place finish was the highest for the Raptors in a recent run of four consecutive state tournaments. The Raptors finished third in 2016 and 2014, and they also were the Class 2A consolation champions in 2015.

Many of the Raptors relished the opportunity to compete in a state title match.

"It was a great atmosphere, and I love being part of such a great team," van der Sman said. "We're all super close with one another. It was just an amazing experience to play for a title, and we gave it our all."

The individual state tournament will take place on June 8 and 9 at the Baseline Tennis Center at the University of Minnesota. van der Sman will compete in the singles draw as the top seed, and Venkatesh and Evan Fridinger will play Minnetonka's Frank Stich and Jacob Stork in the first round.