Champion Wildcats won’t give an inchOctober 4, 2012
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
JASPER — The sectional and regional squads in the cross hairs of the Jasper boys tennis team are pretty much resigned to the fact the grand prize isn’t a possibility.
It’s a matter of what parting gifts they’re going to leave with.
Taking a single set would be an occasion worth noisemakers and confetti. Garnering four or five games would warrant a celebration. Heck, lately, winning a singular game off the 19-time regional champion Wildcats could represent progress.
Since the IHSAA reconfigured the tournament format last season, Jasper hasn’t allowed a set in regional play. Wednesday’s 5-0 blanking of previously once-beaten Vincennes Rivet in the regional championship was settled in less than an hour and included barely a whiff of a celebration.
The eighth-ranked Wildcats (18-2), as expected, bulldozed their way into Saturday’s single-match semistate on their home courts, and No. 15 Floyd Central (14-7) is the last team standing between Jasper and a second straight trip to the state finals. They haven’t been pushed yet, but the Wildcats still have showcased an edge that they’re thirsting to win anything and everything.
Case in point: Will Seger and Noah Moss led their No. 1 doubles match 6-0, 5-0 Wednesday before falling behind 30-love in the final game and later facing two game points. Moss decided he would have been OK with conceding the game, in the name of getting a little more serving practice. But Seger’s only ambition was a shutout.
“He wanted to give up a game just so we could serve,” Seger said. “But I didn’t want to give up a game. I have the backhand (side on the return when the Cats were down game point), so he didn’t really have a choice.”
“He’s the one that decided if we won the game or not,” Moss added with a grin.
At this point, the Cats have been massaging everything precisely how they want.
That includes match days, when Jasper players show up as much as an hour and 15 minutes early for an extended warm-up and hitting session that’s designed to work up a sweat when the Wildcats otherwise cruise without much exertion.
Ben Seng and Aaron Nordhoff swiped a 6-1, 6-2 victory at No. 2 doubles Wednesday, and the Cats also chewed through Rivet’s other portion of the lineup that featured “three nice singles players,” Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough said.
Jasper freshman Logan Mathies — who’s lost only four games in four postseason matches — stopped Alex Stenger 6-1, 6-1 at No. 3 singles, and Eli Seng ousted Dalton Robbins 6-2, 6-0 at No. 1. Seng’s mistake-free, cat-and-mouse game just keeps getting sharper, and in the regional, he was the Cats’ first singles winner both days.
“My confidence right now is probably as high as it’s ever been,” Seng said. “I know last year, my record wasn’t near as good as what it is this year, I wasn’t near as confident this time of the season last year as I am right now.”
The Patriots (14-2) forged a challenge in one match, where Aaron Pea led 4-3 in the second set and forced a tiebreak at No. 2 singles. Jasper’s Grant Weaver lost the first point of the tiebreak before edging away to finish a 6-0, 7-6 (7-4) verdict. Yarbrough has seen the type of pattern unfold in plenty of matches like Weaver’s before, and he issues caution of the scenario to his players.
“The thing we try to focus on more than anything else is playing good tennis,” Yarbrough said of Jasper’s approach in the one-sided regional matches. “I’m glad Grant fought through it and I’m glad he finished ... but we got in a little bit of a rut there, and here’s what happens: You win the first set so easily and played good tennis in doing it, and you kind of relax a little bit.”
But no harm done — the Cats wrapped up their 14th 5-0 sweep of the season. And Rivet coach Gary Robbins left wondering the obvious question: As long as the current regional alignment is in place, with smaller schools feeding into the field that are competitive but not elite, can anyone touch Jasper in the next few years?
“Wow, I don’t know. When we got out of the Terre Haute regional, but we came over here, we knew we were going to see the same (level of competition),” said Robbins, whose team’s only other loss came to Northeast Dubois. “I’m not sure what it would take to get to the next level. We played about as well as we can.”
Even the upper-echelon teams have been lagging behind the Cats, and that’s Floyd Central’s challenge in a few days.
The Highlanders visited Jasper last week and the Cats glided to a 5-0 win. All five victories came in straight sets. But the Cats know better than to expect another easy, breezy win — especially against a Highlander team Jasper grazed 3-2 in last year’s semistate.
“We know what we’ve got ahead of us this weekend. It’ll be a tough match,” Yarbrough said. “And just because we were at the state finals last year, that doesn’t guarantee anything this year. There’s no guarantees. I’m hoping the boys will be ready. I’m hoping that we have six of the same seven (players) from last year ready to go for Saturday, and Saturday’s atmosphere will be completely different.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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