Gabe Rand Credit: Courtesy of Sha-Lam Photography

Having a nickname like “The Clincher” comes with expectations.

Caribou High School senior Gabe Rand earned that moniker by scoring the winning point as the Vikings edged Freeport 3-2 in last spring’s Class B boys tennis state final, and its staying power was put to an extreme test Friday against John Bapst of Bangor.

While Rand flirted with some late-match disaster against John Bapst second seed Jason Wei, he regrouped to outlast the Crusaders’ sophomore in the decisive tiebreaker and enable the defending state champs to escape with a 3-2 victory in an early season battle of Class B North contenders at the Armstrong Tennis Center.

Rand moved out to a 7-3 lead in the eight-game pro set, but Wei patiently rallied back from the baseline. With the match tied 2-2, he took an 8-7 lead with the team victory one game away.

But Rand, the lone senior among Caribou’s top seven, regrouped to hold serve for an 8-8 stalemate before powering his way to the net to score a 7-4 tiebreak victory.

“He just started to hit all of his shots and, boy, they were really good and tough to return,” Rand said of Wei’s comeback. “I finally decided I needed to dig in from there and just try to get the ‘W.’

“I was taking a lot of shots in the regular match that were going out of bounds. I made some silly mistakes, so my goal in the tiebreak was to keep it in the court.”

Caribou (2-0) had limited practice time before opening its season Thursday with a win over Aroostook County rival Houlton, and it showed as the Vikings trailed early in four of the five matches.

John Bapst quickly capitalized, with second doubles teammates Noah Ravan and Sam Peterson scoring a 9-7 victory over Brevin Barnes and Logan Cheplie just before Cannon Breen and Tristan Major edged Aidan Plante and Cody Martin 8-6 at first doubles for a 2-0 lead.

That left Caribou’s three returning starters from a year ago, Rand, top seed Parker Deprey and his third-seeded brother Sawyer Duprey, all needing to win for the Vikings to secure the match.

Sawyer Deprey, a sophomore who played doubles last spring, took control of his match with Max Poth midway through the set and scored a 8-4 victory for Caribou’s first point.

“We started out down 0-2, but the singles players grinded and came back,” Sawyer Deprey said. “As soon as I got more comfortable with the match and how it was being played, I definitely felt like I played better.”

Parker Deprey, a state singles quarterfinalist in 2018, then fought off talented John Bapst freshman Sean Flynn 8-2 to tie the match and leave the stage for Rand and Wei.

“That match with Gabe was outstanding,” Caribou coach John Habeeb said. “You can’t practice the mental aspect of it, and him seeing Parker win and then he’s still on the court with a big lead and to see that go away … for him to come back from that, that’s why he’s the clincher.”

The match was the first of the season for John Bapst, whose lineup was a blend of three seniors, two sophomores and two freshmen.

“We’re extremely young, and we’re excited about it, but there’s no time like the present and it was within reach,” Crusaders coach Jason Hoyt said. “But we have a lot of season left and we know they’re going to get a lot better.

“They’ve had very little practice time — there’s still snow in the woods up in Caribou — and we’ve been practicing all the time, but we’re going to continue to strive to get better. We have a lot of matches to go, and I hope we find them in the Northern Maine finals.”

Caribou swept past John Bapst 5-0 in the girls competition. The Vikings’ singles trio of Hailey Holmquist, Madison Stratton and Sage Dubay won their matches by a combined 24-1, while first doubles teammates Livia Bouchard and Abbi Allen scored an 8-2 victory, and Chloe Sleeper and Mia Theriault won 8-4 at second doubles.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...