Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Story at the Merrillville Invitational

The Lead: Blake's Championship
His sophomore year, he was denied in the final of the Wawasee JV Invite by a Warsaw player. Last year, he couldn't get a championship because of the rain at Merrillville and my silly brother's coaching move at the Wabash Tourney. But this year, not even losing the first set in a tiebreak or 3 lost match points could keep Blake from getting his championship!

Starting out against Triton, Blake had to adjust to a new opponent as the Trojans switched their lineup around and their normal #2 player was playing doubles. Blake didn't get off to a great start, and Ike sent me a text while I was watching the doubles that read: "Blake is playing awful." That was the last time that would be said throughout the day.

Blake quickly recovered from his slow start and pushed the lead out in the first match, winning 11 of 12 games at the end after losing 2 of the first 3. The result was a 6-2, 6-1 victory.

In the second round, Blake played Wawasee junior Isaac Rigdon. Now onto his game, Blake took even less time to win the second round, winning 6-1, 6-0. Onto the championship.

There he faced Centerville, the toughest team at the tournament and the eventual team champions. Junior Jacob Thompson had a game similar to Blake's, making it hard to get separation. In fact, the match went from 2-1, to 3-2, to 4-3 and so on all the way to Blake holding a 6-5 lead in the first set. Both players hit their angles, playing consistently, attacked when it was there. The first set went into a tiebreak, and Blake made three crucial errors to after the breaker was tied at 4-4.

We talked after the first set, noting that his errors had been "nervous" errors, not tactical or technical errors. He started the second set confident, and despite losing two early games, Blake was finally able to get some separation as his attacking shots kept drawing Thompson farther and farther off the court. Blake opened the match up to 5-2 and then was able to finish the set 6-3 to force the super tiebreaker.

In the super tiebreaker, again no one could pull away. The players traded 1 point leads until 6-6. Then Blake won 3 in a row to give himself match point. At that point, Thompson loosened up and blasted away on his shots. But Blake ran them down. After returning three blasted passing shots in a row, Blake forced a weak lob out of Thompson. He was an overhead from the match. But he missed it!

In fact, Blake lost the next 2 points as well to tie the breaker back up at 9-9. I began to worry that he would get mentally down, having lost 3 match points. But not Blake. He forced an error to get to 10-9, then in the next point he approached the net again and got a weak lob. This time his overhead was true, but a lunging Thompson sent the ball back to Blake. At championship point, Blake then finished off the final with a little volley into the open court!

After a difficult senior night, I was glad to see Blake get some redemption in these matches. Too bad he didn't get a trophy for his #2 singles tourney win, but hopefully he won a set of matches he will always remember!

The Hidden Narrative
While I highlight Blake's win, he was far from the only one playing well today. There were lots of wonderful highlights - and we'd have to start with Nathan Brendle.

Nathan started the day out really wanting to play Leonard Mathews, Merrillville's #1 singles player. 2 years ago he made the final 4 in the state, and last year at the Merrillville tournament he had the most amazing match with another final 4 player from Valparaiso. He was hoping to get to play him in the final, and the draw provided for that, if Nathan could win his first two.

He quickly took care of sophomore Kyler Love from Wawasee. Then he played a difficult but wonderful match against Eric Josephson, the #1 singles player from Centerville. In this match, Nathan had to fight through one of the most talented players he has played and a leg injury as well. But struggling through gave him the match up he wanted, in the final against Mathews.

And while the final wasn't close, it was fun to watch. Nathan played awesome, but Mathews is amazing. Nathan would pound a ground stroke and Mathews would drop a ball in front of him. Nathan would approach and Mathews would stretch out and put a lob right on the backline. Nathan kept the games close, but could never quite put the points together to win. Still it was an amazing day for him.

Ike also got to the final at #3 singles. He had a bye in the first round, then took on Triton in the second round. In that match, Ike started out well with attacking ground strokes and coming to the net to finish points. Into the second set, he began to lose some of his confidence and miss some of his strokes. After a 6-3 win in the first set, he lost the second 3-6. So into the super tiebreaker he went. It also went back and forth, like Blake, but Ike found himself down match point at 8-9. On that point he attacked the net and got lobbed over. In returning the lob, Ike landed it right in the back corner. His opponent, Austin Kanarr, went to return it and cramped in his right leg. After a time of stretching, Ike went on to win the super close breaker, 14-12.

In the final, Ike ran into a player with superior placement. Ike couldn't find a way to break down his opponents strokes and lost in rather lopsided fashion. It was a difficult end but a well-played day.

In doubles, Abe Thorne and Jesse Amstutz played their best tennis first thing in the day, against the Lowell Red Devils. Abe really controlled the net and Jesse controlled the baseline. In the second set, they couldn't find the knockout punch, and found themselves in a tiebreak. They had two match points to win the tiebreak, but couldn't finish it out. So they went to a super tiebreak 3rd set. There, I was super proud of the way they dominated, coming back from the difficult second set. They took a huge lead in the breaker, going up 8-1 and winning 10-2. They really played well in doing so.

In the end, we finished 3rd in the team tournament. That was a very good result.

Other Storylines
- The doubles were played at a different site that the singles. So I spent a good deal of the day going back and forth. I didn't see everything, but I saw enough to see our progress.

- 5 more tiebreaks today! Seems we're intent on shattering the previous season record of 15. We're now at 24, we'll see if we can double the record in our last 8 matches.

- Evan and Parth didn't fare quite as well today. They faced up against the eventual champions in the first round.

- Centerville won the tournament. They are undefeated and ranked 8th in District 4. They are also young. I think they only had 1 senior on their varsity team. This is going to be a good team.

- In #2 doubles second round match, our team actually had several points to win the first set. After losing it, they unfortunately could not come back to win the second. I'm looking forward to their mental breakthrough, as they had close sets all day, pretty soon they'll be winning them!

The Scores
#1S - Nathan Brendle - 2nd
def. Kyler Love (10), Wawasee - 6-1, 6-0
def. Eric Josephson (11), Centerville - 6-3, 6-4
lost to Leonard Mathews (12), Merrillville - 0-6, 1-6

#2S - Blake Shetler - 1st
def. Lucas Shafer, Triton - 6-2, 6-1
def. Isaac Rigdon (11), Wawasee - 6-1, 6-0
def. Jacob Thompson (11), Centerville - 6-7 (4), 6-3, (11-9)

#3S - Ike Lehman - 2nd
def. Austin Kanarr (12), Triton - 6-3, 3-6, (14-12)
lost to Adam Spencer (10), Centerville - 2-6, 1-6

#1D - Evan Grimes/Parth Patel - 7th
lost to Brady Wagenknecht (9)/Kaler Nicholson (10), Centerville - 1-6, 0-6
lost to Ryan Wieser (12)/Ben Roesel (9), Lowell - 1-6, 1-6

#2D - Abe Thorne/Jesse Amstutz - 4th
def. Johnny Goodrich (12)/Delner Fleming (10), Lowell - 6-2, 6-7 (9), (10-2)
lost to Jackson Downing (12)/Wil Rettinger (12), Triton - 5-7, 1-6
lost to Nick Lindsey (12)/Tyler Porter (11), Highland - 2-6, 5-7

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