Now, it's official: Cats ink finals spotOctober 8, 2012
By BRENDAN PERKINS
Herald Sports Editor
JASPER — Jasper boys tennis coach Scott Yarbrough can’t count the number of conversations he had lately with people who kept saying the same thing.
“Hey, next week when we’re at state...” the exchanges always seemed to begin.
Call it assuredness, maybe even overconfidence. Whatever it was, it made Yarbrough unsettled. He knew Saturday’s semistate matchup against No. 15 Floyd Central, a team the Wildcats had swept 12 days earlier, wasn’t the brand of match Jasper could afford to tally as a win in advance.
On a chilly Saturday morning at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, there was a moment Yarbrough sensed vulnerability on three courts. But it was only that: a moment. Shortly later, the eighth-ranked Cats seized two victories almost simultaneously that sealed a 4-1 takedown of one of Jasper’s chief rivals and a spot in next week’s state finals for a group touted as one of the most talented teams in Wildcat history.
“I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried coming into this morning. I don’t think you ever as a coach go into a match like this and think, well, we’ve got it in the back pocket,” said Yarbrough, who embedded that point with his team at Thursday’s practice that included extra running.
“Today could have gone either way. It was a little nerve-racking. I think, at least in southern Indiana, we had a little bit of a bull’s-eye on our back this year, and I think we handled it real well.”
The Cats (19-2) will play in the state quarterfinals at Lawrence Central High School for the second straight year, clashing with No. 2 Indianapolis Park Tudor (21-2) at 3 p.m. Friday. The semifinals and championship are slated for Saturday at nearby Indianapolis North Central High School.
Spurring the return trip to Indianapolis was Jasper’s ability to jab back when Floyd Central (14-8) challenged.
Both Wildcat doubles teams had their serves broken with a 4-3 lead in the first set.
They immediately broke the Highlanders right back, with Ben Seng and Aaron Nordhoff swiping the last three Highlander service games of the opening set. And at No. 2 singles, Grant Weaver trailed 3-2 in the second set to Justin Batliner — Floyd Central’s No. 1 singles player last season — but when Weaver pulled to 3-all and then whistled a backhand passing shot up the line on the first point of the next game, Yarbrough knew Weaver was on his way.
“After I won the first set I started hitting my serves better, and I wasn’t tense at all. It was a lot of fun, and I screamed a lot and I got into it. I love doing that,” said Weaver, whose voice was trembling about five minutes after his match ended, which he didn’t know whether to ascribe to the chill or excitement.
“A little of both,” Weaver said. “I’m a little cold, but I’m really happy we’re going to state.”
Once again, Yarbrough praised the tone-setters atop the Wildcat lineup as Eli Seng excused Alex Martin 6-1, 6-3 and Will Seger and Noah Moss eased past Drew Hussung and Jack Stoner 6-4, 6-2.
The clincher was almost a photo finish between Weaver’s grinding 6-4, 6-3 victory and Ben Seng and Nordhoff’s third-set runaway.
Seng and Nordhoff won first, playing the final two points of their 7-5, 3-6, 6-0 win in less time than it took Weaver to close out the one final, extended point of his match.
The Cats’ No. 2 doubles pair deemed the final set one of the best they played all season, and Yarbrough told them it was just that they won the decisive point after the up-and-down season they’ve endured — which was also mirrored in Saturday’s score.
“After the second set, Ben came up to me, he just straight-up looked at me, he’s like, ‘You need to get it together, you need to play actual tennis,’” Nordhoff said. “I was playing very poor that second set. He basically straight-up told me I needed to pick it up, and that third set, it happened.”
Floyd Central averted a shutout by winning at No. 3 singles, where Ryan Plunkett rallied past Logan Mathies 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. Still, after that match finished, the Cats rushed out to mob Mathies as if he’d won. The bigger picture was the Cats could officially start thinking about the program’s eighth visit to the state finals, which came at the expense of a team Jasper loves to beat the most.
When it comes to the Cats’ rivals, Weaver said Floyd Central is “No. 1, by far.” And Saturday’s redux against the brash and expressive Highlanders arrived with a bit more ease than Jasper’s 3-2 escape of Floyd Central in the semistate a year earlier.
“It feels great beating Floyd Central both times to get (to state), too. It’s always great to beat Floyd Central,” Eli Seng said. “We just love just getting out there and just telling them what’s up.”
The celebration was larger than life, thanks to the props provided by Seger’s mother, Becky. She made Fatheads of each Wildcat player — giant cardboard cutouts of their faces — which Jasper fans waved and bobbed up and down during prematch introductions. When the Cats posed for a team photo afterward, each held up his own jumbo head over his real face — Moss’ Fathead was nowhere to be found, so instead he used the one of Harrison Love, who was away taking the SAT.
All the festivities were fully anticipated by the Cats, who reiterated all season anything short of another journey to state would be a bummer. Expected, yes. But also treasured.
“Right after the match I just took a second and took it all in,” Ben Seng said. “It’s something we always talked about in middle school. Our junior team, we always talked about getting to the state finals, and we did it last year, and we’re stronger this year. And I think we’ll give Park Tudor a match.”
Contact Brendan Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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