Wins, and fewer eruptions, define Ranger strides

By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor

FERDINAND — They may seem like mutually exclusive groups, but the Forest Park football team is interested in what’s going on with the tennis squad up the hill.

Specifically, about the fireworks.

Hurst

The Ranger football team has been waiting for them — so much so that Ranger football coach Ross Fuhs left tennis coach Dean Blessinger a voicemail message wondering why he hasn’t heard any screams or shouts from Blessinger.

“Ross had left a message, ”˜Coach, what’s going on? Haven’t heard any explosions this year. Do you not care anymore or are things going that well?’” Blessinger said with a laugh, also admitting he unleashed a five-minute tirade on his team last year.

The causal relationship is evident: No screaming equals better news. And while Blessinger admits with his trademark bluntness that the Rangers remain an unfinished product, they took another stride Thursday in Ferdinand with a 3-2 victory over Southridge that wiped out the Raiders’ four-match win streak.

“He’s been a little calmer this year, letting little things slide here and there,” Ranger No. 1 doubles player Bryan Hurst said of his coach. “We’ve been keeping him pretty calm.”

First out of the doghouse: Forest Park’s No. 2 doubles squad.

“I bellyached all last year about not getting the 2 doubles point,” Blessinger said, “and we’re getting it now.”

The Ranger coach tabbed Josh Thomas as the emergent guy in that position, where three other Rangers have shuffled in and out this season. Thursday, Thomas paired with Aaron Meyer for a 6-1, 6-4 takedown of Evan Julian and Andrew Recker.

Hurst, meanwhile, has managed to impress. He even earned two “reallys” from Blessinger, who said he’s “really, really happy with the way my 1 doubles is playing.” For Hurst and Andy Schlachter, that meant batting away a set point against them when they trailed Southridge brothers Cam and Chad O’Bryan.

That came when the Forest Park pair trailed 5-4 in the second set. Two breaks of serve and three games later they swiped a 6-3, 7-5 win.

It was the latest testimony of what Blessinger has told Hurst all along: When he uses his 6-foot-3 frame to his advantage,he’s got the capability to dominate a match even with three other people on the same court.

“This year I’ve been able to overpower people. (Andy’s) pretty well the same. Whenever he hits it good, he hits it pretty good,” Hurst said.

“Our serving is doing good for us, and then we work pretty good as a team. Andy, he does good setting me up with lobs so then I can go up to the net and put them away.”

That’s the brand of execution that Southridge coach Larry Kieffner wanted from his top doubles squad. Whether it be commandeering the net or mixing in a drop shot, Kieffner wanted to see more of what the Raiders (4-5, 3-2) accomplish in practice applied to match time.

Kieffner did applaud Mitch Steinkamp, his No. 3 singles player who struggled a night earlier in a loss but sneaked by Emerson Thayer 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 on Thursday. Raider senior Tyler Gray dictated the No. 1 singles battle 6-0, 6-1 over Blake Emmert, but to Kieffner, everything between Gray’s and Steinkamp’s wins lacked the desired oomph.

“Tyler played his normal game. ... The rest of the way down, we just didn’t seem like we were firing on any of the cylinders,” Kieffner said. “We were like a six-cylinder car with four cylinders firing. That just seems like the way it was all the way down.”

Southridge’s spoiler in the singles sector was Matt Miller, who clicked off eight consecutive games against Corbin Neu after the two were squared at 4-all in the opening set. And at long last for Blessinger, Miller is developing into a threat the Rangers need as Blessinger anticipated more production from his returning singles players than he’s received.

“I feel good that he can get some points at 2 singles,” Blessinger said. “(Miller is) just steady Eddie, doesn’t beat himself, rarely misses shots. He’s going to force you to win the point, because he’s not going to lose the point.”

For the Rangers (3-5, 2-3), the next gauge of progress comes today and Saturday when they play in the Jasper Invitational. The Raiders, meanwhile, will host their own invitational Saturday, and with multiple matches in a day, Kieffner’s eager to see if his team can build momentum and halt its oscillating pattern of steady one match, shaky the next.

“Our lack of experience shows,” Kieffner said. “We play one good match and then we don’t play a good one. We just need to get all the kids firing at the same time once.”

Contact Brendan Perkins at bperkins@dcherald.com.




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