Skowhegans Dominick Clifford hits a shot to Edward Littles Luke Pawlina during a Class A North semifinal match Thursday in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan boys tennis team made sure its final match at Memorial Park was a historic one.

The River Hawks will be playing elsewhere starting next year once the current tennis complex is demolished along with the adjacent baseball field. Sooner than that, though, they’ll be playing in a regional final after advancing further than ever before.

Skowhegan claimed a 4-1 victory over Edward Little in Thursday’s Class A North semifinals. The win sent the River Hawks to their first-ever Northern Maine championship match, where they’ll face either third-ranked Brunswick or second-ranked Camden Hills on Saturday at Bates College.

“It’s a great moment for this team and these kids,” said Skowhegan head coach Dan Riley. “They’re hard workers, they’re good athletes, and they’re excellent students, and they were determined to get better, and it’s just so amazing to see them be rewarded for all of that.”

Noah McConnell and Erik Cunliffe got the first win for No. 1 Skowhegan (14-0) with a defeat of Edward Little’s Kaden Haider-Roussel and Gavin Pelletier 6-0, 6-1 in second doubles. Cam Herrick and Asa Stroman then pushed the River Hawks within one win of victory with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Brady Kilby and Richie Romano.

“Noah and Erik were on their A-game today; I think their opponents struggled a bit with their shots, and they took full advantage,” Riley said. “Asa and Cam weren’t doing things they normally do, and that made it tighter than it would have been, but what I like about our kids is they persevere, they support each other, and they get the job done.”


The clincher came in third singles as Dom Clifford topped Luke Pawlina 6-3, 7-6. Clifford had let Pawlina back into the match after nearly closing out what would have been a 6-3 win, but Pawlina fought back for No. 4 Edward Little (9-5) to force a tiebreaker before Clifford ultimately regained his momentum to win 7-4.

“I’m honestly not sure how I did it,” Clifford said. “I’d say I wanted it more, but I don’t think that was the reason. He’s obviously a good player, and that was one of my tougher matches of the year. He’s a great guy, and it’s tough every time I play him, but that’s what makes it fun.”

Clifford, then, wasn’t surprised by Pawlina’s fightback. His strategy entering the match had been to try to hit it to the Edward Little senior’s backhand and deliver long balls to make matters difficult, but when that stopped working, the Skowhegan junior was forced to adjust.

Edward Little’s Luke Pawlina hits a shot to Skowhegan’s Dominick Clifford during a Class A North semifinal match Thursday in Skowhegan. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I prepared for weeks for this one; I knew he wasn’t just going to go down easily,” Clifford said. “I wanted to get to that backhand and get those deep balls and force him to come in a little, but he figured it out, so I started going to the net more and being more aggressive with my points.” 

The No. 1 and No. 2 singles contests were both competitive with Skowhegan and Edward Little splitting a pair of three-set matches. Skowhegan’s Drake Turcotte defeated Edward Little’s Jonah Chen 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 in first singles, and the Red Eddies’ Calvin Vincent topped Mattia Rota 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 in second singles.

It was the latest step in a season of firsts for Skowhegan, perennial strugglers in Class A prior to their success of the past three years. The River Hawks clinched an undefeated regular season with a win against Bangor last Tuesday before beating Brunswick in the KVAC championship match last Thursday to win their first-ever conference title.

“When you look at (how far we’ve come), it’s pretty cool,” said Clifford, who also took pride in the fact that it was his win that clinched the team victory for Skowhegan. “I love all the guys, and practicing and playing with them is always a lot of fun. We always push each other. I’m definitely going to celebrate this one.”

Following the three wins to open the match, Skowhegan had the relief of of watching the final two knowing it would be heading to Bates regardless of how those contests unfolded. Even as he still had coaching to do, Riley was not shy to admit that he already had competing for a championship in Lewiston on his mind.

“To do what we’ve done and get to this point is better than anything I could imagine,” Riley said. “To be able to take over for (former head coach) Paul Daigle and what he did and build on that, it’s been a great experience, and that’s all because of these kids. … They deserve this.”

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