Too good: Cats three-peat semistate

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Jasper’s Ben Seng yelled after winning a point during his No. 2 doubles match in Saturday’s boys tennis semistate against Jeffersonville at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex in Jasper. Seng and Alex Allen pulled out a three-set victory to cap the Wildcats’ 4-1 takedown of Jeffersonville, and Jasper once again punched its ticket to the state finals. The Cats clinched a third straight trip to the state finals for the first time in program history and will meet No. 3 Indianapolis Park Tudor in Friday’s quarterfinals at Fishers. More photos are here.

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — Grant Weaver kissed the line with a backhand winner, and from behind the fence, teammate Luke Hochgesang shouted a deadpan compliment.

“That’s sick, Weav,” Hochgesang chirped.

Later, after Weaver sniped a volley winner ashe closed in on a victory that pushed the Jasper boys tennis team one step closer tomaking history, Hochgesang’s call of approval came again.
“Too good, Weav.”

Too good, indeed.

Too good in the semistate for the last three years, and too good for the majority of this season for a singles trio that helped boost the Wildcats to a new stratosphere. Ninth-ranked Jasper excused Jeffersonville 4-1 in Saturday’s single-match semistate at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, launching the Wildcats to their third straight state finals appearance — a first for the program.

The ease with which the Cats undercut a 12th-rated Red Devil squad ranked just three rungs below them was just the latest exhibit of just how authoritative Jasper’s trio has become. Eli Seng crushed Austin Hunt 6-1, 6-2 at No. 1. Weaver, practically immune to unforced errors in the second set, wore down Brock Winchell 6-3, 6-1 at No. 2. And Logan Mathies, who is once-beaten on the season along with Weaver, swamped Connor Buntin 6-2, 6-1 at No. 3.

“We came out on top of the match and really ... (there’s an) expectation to come out strong and really take over the match and really clean up in our singles spots,” Mathies said.

“I don’t think people understand how good that is. I really don’t,” Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough added of the comfortable winning margins. “A bunch of high school kids (from Jasper) came today and they watched, and I think they’re impressed by our kids. They just have absolutely no idea how good those guys are.

“Any time a team here can do something that teams in the past haven’t done in this program, I think it’s outstanding. A precedent has been set, and where the teams at Jasper have gone, when you do something those teams haven’t done, I think it’s remarkable.”

The Wildcats’ durability will be tested at 3 p.m. Friday in the state quarterfinal round at Fishers High School. Jasper (18-3) will get another crack at No. 3 Indianapolis Park Tudor (14-4), the team that bounced the Cats 4-1 from the first round of the finals last season.

Given that Eli Seng, Weaver, Mathies and No. 2 doubles player Ben Seng all returned to the same positions they occupied last year, angling for a semistate three-peat was the natural mission. It wasn’t always a comfortable guarantee, though.

After Jasper stumbled in a 4-1 loss to Evansville Memorial in September, Yarbrough confronted his team and flatly challenged the players’ commitment and effort level, also lamenting that a few brief suspensions darkened the feel of the season.

After that, Ben and Eli Seng agreed, things changed. And it had something to do with the commanding result that Eli Seng assembled Saturday.

“I was expecting to set the tone for the whole team,” he said. “I knew I had a good shot at winning, so I wanted to get out early and get ahead early and just get everyone’s confidence up, knowing that their 1 singles player is in a groove right now.”

Weaver’s riding a similar wave.

The junior broke Winchell in all four of his service games in a competitive first set before wrapping up the victory that clinched the semistate title. With a sizable crowd gravitating toward his finish, Weaver knocked off one last volley and quietly raised both arms above his head.

“It’s fun being the last match on, because everybody’s watching, and then you go to the net and have a putaway, everybody goes crazy. Aw, so much fun,” Weaver said, beaming.

Jeffersonville (19-2), which sustained both its losses in 4-1 setbacks to Jasper, prevailed at No. 1 doubles, with Jack Reilly and Sam Coward stopping Hochgesang and Joe Kemker 6-3, 6-2. But after the initial thrill of the clinch had simmered, the party resumed when Ben Seng and Alex Allen stormed back for Jasper’s fourth win.

In the third set, the Wildcat duo lagged 4-1 in the third set and batted away a match point at 5-4 down. Grabbing the final three games, they stole a 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 7-5 verdict over Justin Padgett and Chase Kayrouz, which Yarbrough said gave some validation to Ben as he joined twin brother Eli with a win in the last match for the seniors on their home courts.

“I think Ben has always felt like he’s been in Eli’s shadow a little bit,” Yarbrough said. “Here’s the thing about Benny, though: just as much of a competitor, maybe at times harder on himself than Eli is. But when we do records at the end of the year, his four-year record is going to be outstanding. ... He’s been a solid rock for us at 2 doubles.”

Ben, like Eli and Weaver, fortified Jasper’s lineup two years ago during Jasper’s re-breakthrough, as the Cats made the state finals for the first time since 2002. Lately, the state finals have become more of a habit. But just as treasured.

“Words can’t express how awesome it is. It’s great,” Ben Seng said. “It’s a team effort. It’s everybody putting in work. It’s hitting all summer. It’s hitting after practice. We don’t like to mess around in practice. We go hard, we work hard for two hours every day. Whenever we’re out there, we want to get better.”

And the way the Cats see it, there’s one week left to push it a little farther.

“We expect to go up to state and beat Park Tudor and win the second round, we expect to be in the final two this year,” Ben Seng added. “I think anything less would be kind of disappointing, because we know we’re top four, top three at least.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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