The senior duo advances to the state tournament as the Tigers claim second place in the Pacific Conference

McMINNVILLE — After playing as Newberg’s top two singles players for the majority of the season, seniors Aidan Thillmann and Barry Vernon made the switch to doubles ahead of last week’s Pacific Conference district tournament in hopes of qualifying for the upcoming state tournament.

That decision appears to have paid off, not only for Thillmann and Vernon, who rolled to the district title, but for the Tigers too, as they backed up their second-place finish in the dual meet season by finishing runner-up as a team. by: SETH GORDON - Reach - Aidan Thillmann (pictured) and Barry Vernon combined forces as the Tigers' No. 1 doubles team, which finished second in the district tournament and will play Thursday in the first round of the state championships.

Regular season champ Tualatin ran away with the tournament title with 37 points, well ahead of Newberg’s 24 and Glencoe’s 20.

On the strength of their singles records, Thillmann and Vernon were awarded the top-seed in the draw by the conference’s coaches and lived up to the billing on the way to the title.

The duo rolled into the semifinals, losing just one game in two matches along the way, where they ran into No. 4 seed Tanner Ahl and Mitch Davis of Tigard.

The Newberg pair got off to a bit of a slow start, but eventually found their rhythm and prevailed 6-3, 6-2.

“When you’re both on in doubles, you’re both clicking, there’s nothing more fun than that,” Vernon said. “Sometimes Aidan and I will just click and it’s the best time.”

It was a similar story in the championship match versus McMinnville’s Eduardo Colombari and Daniel Post, who had upended the No. 2 seed from Tualatin in the semifinals, with Newberg committing unforced errors and falling behind 4-3.

But after hitting a few nice winners to boost their confidence, Thillmann and Vernon rattled off three straight games to take the set 6-4 and put the Grizzlies on their heels.

“We just enjoyed ourselves out there,” Thillmann said. “In the first couple of games of the championship match against Mac, we were feeling a bit of pressure for some reason. But after the first few games, we calmed down, we had fun and that’s what boosted our game.”

Newberg jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the final set and just when McMinnville seemed like it might put together a little run to get back in it, Thillmann nailed three or four passing shots in the final two games to close out the win.

“I think Aidan played his best tennis of the year,” NHS coach Dave Brown said. “That’s why these two are a tough matchup because Barry creates some difficult angles. He had a couple of really nice topspin lobs, which he was missing to death early on. Once he got those, Aidan was doing a great job poaching. His net game was awesome.”

In singles, Micah Stoltzfus advanced to the quarterfinals before falling 6-2, 6-2 to No. 4 seed Mitchell King. Braden Milroy took No. 3 seed Daniel Kolesnikov of Glencoe to three sets before falling 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

In doubles, Matt Freeman and Jacob Pendergraph bounced back from a disastrous first-round loss, winning three straight matches to capture the consolation title.

Brown was pleased with how the team finished the season, especially considering the emotional turmoil it has dealt with since the death of teammate Alex Weiler last spring.

“I think these kids here were amazing,” Brown said. “I don’t know how you do it as a high school kid. They’re pretty young to have to go through that.”

Thillmann and Vernon appear to have received a favorable draw at the state tournament, having been given a bye before facing the winner of a first-round matchup between tandems from South Salem and Barlow Thursday afternoon at the Tualatin Hills Recreation Center in Beaverton. 

“We’re just going to go out and play, have fun,” Vernon said. “We have nothing to lose, so maybe we can shock a few people.”

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