Cats’ run starts as Raider coach exits

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper's Luke H. Hochgesang, left, fist bumped his teammate Joe Kemker during their doubles match against Southridge during the boys tennis sectional finals at Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex in Jasper on Thursday.

Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — After the final match came to a conclusion at the sectional championship, an up-and-down battle at No. 1 doubles, Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough needed to address his team. He needed to commemorate his squad, but also comment on other problems he noticed that evening.

But first, he and the rest of the crowd at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex needed to say thank you.

Yarbrough and Southridge athletic director Brett Bardwell gathered players and parents to honor Southridge coach Larry Kieffner, who coached his last boys tennis match for the Raiders on Thursday after 37 years. There was applause and a letter from former player Larry Cochren, the current athletic director at Evansville Bosse High School, thanking Kieffner for his constant support, for his willingness to pick up a racket with Cochren at any time and for introducing him to a game he loved. Kieffner was presented with a plaque commemorating his commitment to Southridge and the game of tennis for almost four decades.

“It’s kind of sad in a way,” Kieffner said as spectators continued to approach him, leaning in for hugs and handshakes. “Thirty-seven years is half of my life. It’s more than half, really. It’s going to take a while to get used to.”

“The one thing that I think Larry does is he loves tennis,” Yarbrough said. “He thinks it’s a great sport. I think he thinks it’s great for the young and, as you get older, it’s a sport you can play forever. The thing that he’s done is gotten a lot of athletes to play. At a small school ... he’s always had good numbers. I think because of his personality and the type of guy he is, he’s very likeable and the kids enjoy playing with him.

“I know what my father (Ed Yarbrough) put into this program for 40 years and I think that should be recognized,” Scott added.

It was a respectful moment after what had been a mostly painless victory for Jasper, which earned the program’s eighth straight sectional title with a 5-0 sweep over the Raiders. The Wildcats have totaled 33 sectional championships, and since 1990, Jasper has taken the title 23 of 24 years with the one loss coming to — who else — Kieffner and the Raiders in 2005. It’s become a streak of success so dominant, even the Wildcat players have trouble remembering just how many titles the program has exactly.

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Southridge's head coach Larry Kieffner, or coach K, as many players call him, smiled as he listened to Jasper head coach Scott Yarbrough read a letter from a former player written about his experience with him as a tennis coach after the boys tennis sectional finals at Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex in Jasper on Thursday. It was Kieffner's last tennis match after coaching for 37 years.

“I’m not sure on the number,” senior Luke Hochgesang said. “I know I couldn’t count it with all my figures and toes, though.”

But with great success comes great expectations. On a night when all five Jasper slots won in straight sets, Yarbrough was fired up after the match, but not for the reasons expected.

“I think we felt coming in we were going to win the match,” Yarbrough said. “We talk about focus and concentration and trying to play clean tennis all the time. I thought last night (against Forest Park) we did a very good job of that. Tonight, not a lot of emotion. It was kind of a la-la evening.”

“Everybody thinks when you come to a tennis match you’ve got to be quiet,” he added. “We got to have a little more rah-rah; we should feed off emotion.”

For the most part, the Wildcats (15-3) were able to dispatch of the Raiders (12-5). Nos. 2 and 3 singles players Grant Weaver and Logan Mathies both won 6-0, 6-0 and Eli Seng took down Tyler Gray 6-0, 6-2 at the No. 1 slot. The doubles, though, were a bit of a different story.

No. 2 doubles duo Ben Seng and Alex Allen surged to a 6-1, 6-1 victory, although they were trumped at times because of the off-speed returns from Corbin Neu and Evan Julian. But the biggest challenge to the Wildcat sweep came at No. 1 doubles, where Hochgesang and Joe Kemker needed a late comeback in the first set and then a burst of excellent play — and some double-faults on the other side — to finally pass long-limbed brothers Chad and Cam O’Bryan.

“Honestly, I think we were beating ourselves because we’re not really used to off-pace serves or the lobs or having to take as many overhead (shots) as we were,” Hochgesang said. “It’s just difficult because we don’t usually see that as a team. Plus, our heads got out of it a little bit. You just can’t have that in a match like this.”

The O’Bryans were on their game in the first set, using every inch of their 6-foot-plus frames to make it nearly impossible for the Wildcats to sneak any shots by them. They’re formidable together, even if the brothers might not recognize themselves as true tennis players.

“They’re two basketball players,” Kieffner said with a laugh. “They fought all the time. They argued and fought, but when they played, neither of them wanted to lose. So they made a good combination and of course the size is so intimidating. And it’s a lot of size.”

But after winning three straight games to take the first set 7-5, Hochgesang and Kemker gave up only one in the second as they were able to back the O’Bryans off the net with powerful returns.

“We just have to come out with a lot of energy and just be confident in our strokes,” Hochgesang said. “We came in really confident and the thing was whenever we didn’t have the play to back it up, that confidence just dropped right way. We need to just come out consistent, realize you’re going to miss a few shots here and there.”

The loss ended what has been a successful season for Southridge, who finished with 12 wins after losing four of its first five.

“I was really proud of these kids,” Kieffner said. “From the beginning of the year we lost our first (three matches) and then we won a bunch of them straight, so I’m really proud of these kids. They really improved.”

The Wildcats will face county neighbor Northeast Dubois in Tuesday’s regional semifinals at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex. The Jeeps (18-0) are fresh off their first sectional championship Thursday and have been rolling all season with 15 shutout victories.

“I think they’ll come in with the theory (they’ve) got nothing to lose and everything to gain. And I don’t know why they wouldn’t,” Yarbrough said of the Jeeps. “We will focus on us and try to fix some things. We’ll focus hard on serves and returns these three, four days, the basics. I think we’ll be ready to go.”

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