You've got to give Mount Hebron tennis coach Cliff Bernstein credit.
Two weeks ago, he predicted the Vikings would beat mighty Centennial, which had won 36 consecutive Howard County matches.
But yesterday, the host Vikings, benefiting from some upsets and Tennis
Bernstein's crafty matchup strategy, spoiled Centennial's streak with a 5-4 win.
"This is the greatest single victory since the Cold War," Mount Hebron sophomore David Mitchel said. "It's a catapult going into the county tournament."
With the home coach choosing matchups, Bernstein diagramed his game plan perfectly. Specifically, the coach took advantage of his middle girls seeds being stronger than Centennial's.
No. 3 Emily Yanero beat Michelle Brown, 9-7, and No. 4 Magda Malak beat Jeanie Lee, 8-2, for the Vikings.
After Mitchel executed a huge 8-3 upset over undefeated freshman Brian Ruppert and Jason Smith surprised Brian Higgins, 5-4, Mount Hebron held a 4-0 lead through singles.
At that point, knowing Centennial (11-1) is strongest in doubles, Bernstein said, "It's a long way from over. They've got their good teams coming on now."
Indeed, the Eagles' teams of No. 3 Susan Green/No. 5 Julia Dougherty, and No. 2 Dave Allocco/No. 3 Khan Pathan earned wins, trimming their deficit to 4-2.
Mount Hebron (8-4) quelled any comeback attempt when its mixed doubles team of Rick Plenge/Sandra Benson topped Brad Terrill/Shelley Gerhard, 8-4.
"We won it for the team or we would have lost the match, 5-4," Plenge said.
In all, Bernstein, a first-year coach, predicted victories in the four singles matches and mixed doubles, all of which came true.
Regarding his April 26 comment in The Baltimore Sun guaranteeing victory, Bernstein said, "I think [Centennial] read that and there was a lot of talk around the county about it. I didn't want to talk trash, I wanted to bolster our team's confidence."
Centennial No. 1 seed Becky Knouse indicated that the match's hype may have "played with the minds" of some Eagles, granting the Vikings a mental edge.
"Some people let their minds get too much into it because it was billed as such a big match," Knouse said. "This team came in really psyched and they really wanted to beat us."
Yanero and Malak won first. Then Smith recovered from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits, using a patient baseline game to thwart Higgins.
Mitchel took a 5-3 lead against Ruppert, setting the stage for the pivotal ninth game that tested both players' fortitude. The game reached deuce nine times and Ruppert had six break points before Mitchell prevailed on his third game point, taking the ensuing two games for the 8-3 win.
"That's probably the best match I've ever played," Mitchel said. "I covered the court well, covered the net and had crisp volleys. I was psyched."
Centennial coach Bill Shook said, "Brian [Ruppert] just had an off-day. He's the best in the county. Mitchell just challenged him."
The loss left Eagles No. 2 seed Stephanie Knouse concerned that her team won't be as "invincible" in opponents' minds.
"It's not the county title we're worried about, it's our reputation," she said. "[Because] Mount Hebron beat us, teams that beat them will now say they can beat us."