Taming Panthers too tough for proud Cats

Mark Felix/Special to the Herald
Jasper’s Joe Kemker returned a serve against Indianapolis Park Tudor in Friday’s first round of the state finals at Fishers High School. Kemker and Luke Hochgesang won their No. 1 doubles match when leg cramps forced a Panther player to retire in the third set, but third-ranked Park Tudor extinguished Jasper’s season with a 3-2 loss. For a gallery of photos, click here.

From Herald Staff Reports

With his No. 1 singles player down 6-2, 5-0, Jasper boys tennis coach Scott Yarbrough approached the fence to reassure Eli Seng one last time.

Yarbrough affirmed to Seng that even as he was one game from defeat and the end of his high school career, that he was striking the ball well. The ball was just returned to Seng hit even better, without fail.

“Coach, this guy’s just too good,” Seng conceded to Yarbrough.

That’s the feeling that typified Friday for a Wildcat team making history yet more concerned about lengthening its state finals stay.

Ninth-ranked Jasper plucked wins at two positions and felt largely content with its showing at all five spots against seven-time state champion Indianapolis Park Tudor. But the Panthers zipped to three early straight-set victories and dealt the Cats a 3-2 setback at Fishers High School to short-circuit Jasper’s run in the quarterfinal round again.

Hochgesang


In the state finals for the third straight year, a first for the program, there was simply no getting past Park Tudor’s two stately singles players as the third-ranked Panthers (15-4) also prevailed at No. 2 doubles before Jasper landed the last two individual wins of the day.

“I told them to not let this loss take away from what they accomplished,” said Yarbrough, whose team fell in the opening round the past two years to Park Tudor and to Center Grove in 2011. “With this new (eight-team format for the state finals), it helps to try to get a break on the draw, and we actually ran into good teams. That’s just part of life. I told them I was proud of them. Coming into this season, people knew we were going to have a good team, and we lived up to the hype. We got back to the state finals for the third time in a row. The guys after the match, they were disappointed, but I think they realized they played well and that was the best (effort) we had.”

The enterprising spirit, though, was trumped by supreme talent.

Yarbrough called Park Tudor’s Dan Rayl and Scott Thygesen “as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the state,” and Rayl dropped Seng 6-2, 6-0 to improve to 26-0 while Thygesen handled Grant Weaver 6-1, 6-1 at No. 2 singles. Shortly later, the Panthers cornered their clinching victory with Danny Hupfer and Raji Shah’s 6-4, 6-3 verdict over Ben Seng and Alex Allen at No. 2 doubles.

Jasper (18-4) didn’t exit without some parting gifts, though.

The Cats salvaged some pride with a pair of three-set triumphs, the first coming from sophomore Logan Mathies, who surrendered the first set of his No. 3 singles battle 6-4 before surging to take the final two 6-4, 6-1 against Ben Klapper. Mathies closed his sophomore season with a 26-2 mark overall. With one of those losses coming at 2 singles and the other coming against top-ranked Carmel, Mathies is in the conversation among the state’s best No. 3 singles players, by his coach’s estimation.

“There’s no doubt. Next to Carmel and North Central, I can’t imagine there being another better 3 player in the state,” Yarbrough said. “And, I’ll be honest with you, after Carmel and North Central and Park Tudor, Weaver’s probably the next-best 2 player in the state.”

Concluding the day was a reclamation effort, of sorts, by Jasper’s No. 1 doubles tandem.

After Hochgesang and Joe Kemker lost individually against Jeffersonville last Saturday, Yarbrough sensed the duo felt a burden of letting their team down even though the Cats took the match 4-1. Friday supplied redemption, and Hochgesang set the tone — and the volume — with his usual vigorous celebrations after winning points.

“I was extremely pleased with how both of us played,” Hochgesang said. “I think we realized coming in we were going have to play really well for our team to have any chance of moving on, so I think we just came out with that mentality that it was a must-win. We really fought for a lot of points and went after a lot of balls, and we played extremely well.”

“A lot of screaming, a lot of getting into it, and he played well doing it,” Yarbrough added of Hochgesang. “He got his money’s worth today.”

After taking the first set and dropping the set, Hochgesang and Kemker were level with Jack McCarter and Alex French at 6-3, 5-7, 3-3 when McCarter experienced cramps and the Panthers opted to default the match.

The result still felt tantalizingly incomplete to Hochgesang, who admitted “I would have rather played it out and lost than won in a default.” The big-picture result, likewise, left the Cats wanting a little more.

“I really feel dissatisfied with not getting through the first round, because I think we had a lot more potential than we lived up to today,” Hochgesang said. “But I feel like we still played well. It was a good day.”

And one the Cats feel like they can potentially book on their calendar next year at this time, too.

In Hochgesang and the Sengs, “these three have been awfully good to us,” Yarbrough said of his departing seniors. But with the return of two singles and two doubles players, the Wildcat coach was already peeking ahead, and he pointed out to the team’s JV players who were along for the ride that they could join in on something special next year.

“I said, ”˜I hope you see what it takes to get here. I said I need guys to step up, because we return a lot of talent,’” Yarbrough said. “I told them the expectation for us it to get back to the state finals again. And it should be.”




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