Minot High School junior Dustin Foster stayed a step ahead throughout his West Region No. 1 singles match against Mandan sophomore Erik Porter on Thursday.
Porter pestered Foster into a close first set and rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the second set before the top Magician took over for a 7-5, 6-3 win. It was a crucial point, but the Braves won 5-4 in both squads' regular season finale at Cameron Indoor Tennis Center.
Foster won on a drop shot in a quick but dizzying match point. He then flashed a smile at his familiar and pesky opponent while clutching the top of the net in relief.
Minot High School junior Dustin Foster hits a shot against Mandan sophomore Erik Porter in a West Region No. 1 singles match Thursday at Cameron Indoor Tennis Center. Foster won 7-5, 6-4.
"We played a lot in past seasons and this summer in tournaments, so we know each other's game pretty well," Foster said.
The final point came on Foster's serve. Porter's return got away from him and hung in the air before barely catching the line and bringing Foster more than halfway to the net. Foster delivered a forehand down the same line, forcing Porter across the court to lunge and set up an easy drop-shot winner.
"I had to bounce back from giving up three straight games there and came back to win two of those, so that was huge," Foster said. "My game is definitely progressing as the season is going along and I'm really happy with it right now."
The Magicians (4-6 overall, 3-3 region) will be the No. 4 seed at next week's West Region tournament in Bismarck and will play No. 5 Jamestown. Mandan (6-3, 4-2) secured the No. 2 seed.
The Braves took an early lead with two wins at doubles, including a three-set comeback (2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3) at No. 2. Minot senior Isaac Massey and junior partner Drew Thomas struggled after the first set against Mandan senior duo Brandon Schaner and Alex Wanek.
Both teams held serve through the first four games of the third set, but Mandan broke Thomas to lead 4-2. Thomas and Massey grew frustrated and Schaner and Wanek grew more aggressive.
"We hadn't won our serve until we were down 4-1 (in the first set) and I kind of chewed them out a little bit," Mandan coach Paul Christen said. "I don't know if that did it or not. A couple seniors, they put it together there. They get on a roll. Minot guys got a little down. I think we took advantage of that."
Christen thought his team needed to win twice at doubles to stand a chance with tough singles matchups ahead. Thomas said MHS lacked consistency and made too many unforced errors.
"We just got to execute more," Thomas said. "We weren't as aggressive at the net at the end. The second set, they started with I-formation a couple times and they just had a little more energy and we didn't have enough energy as we should have."
Minutes after Foster's victory, Minot senior Grayson Bahl picked up the fourth team point in a 7-6 (10-8), 6-4 win at No. 4 singles over Connor Wieland.
That left Minot needing just one win over three Mandan seniors in remaining singles play. The Braves' experience proved too much.
"We had many, many chances and that's what we talked about afterward," MHS coach Scott DeLorme said, "just our inability to close out games and sets."
MHS will carry the confidence gained in the close loss against Mandan, a win over No. 3 Williston on Tuesday and an 8-1 win over Jamestown earlier in the season.
"We actually like our team going forward even in the 3-2 format with some very good players," DeLorme said. "There isn't a team in the region tournament that we think we can't beat in that format."
DeLorme has not decided on the lineup in the team portion of the tournament. In the individual singles bracket, Foster will play at No. 1, Massey at No. 2 and senior David Hurteau at No. 3. Thomas and Bahl will play No. 1 doubles in that individual bracket. Sophomores Ty Nygaard and Cody Reynolds will play No. 2 doubles.
Tim Chapman covers Minot High School athletics. Follow him on Twitter @chapmatp.