One point from state, Cats' fate flips

Photos By Matthew Busch/The Herald
Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough addressed No. 2 doubles players Brooke Lueken, center, and MeKenzie Hilsmeyer between the second and third sets of the their semistate tussle with No. 3 Floyd Central on Saturday at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex. The Highlanders fought off a match point in the No. 2 doubles clash and rallied to win for the deciding point in a 3-2 victory over the third-ranked Wildcats. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — One point away from booking a trip to the state finals, Jasper senior MeKenzie Hilsmeyer motioned with her hand the universal symbol for calm down. The gesture was directed toward No. 2 doubles partner Brooke Lueken, but very easily could have applied for everyone else at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex that was fixated on one court.


One point. Calm down. One point.

It seemed like such an attainable sequence, especially given how the third-ranked Wildcats seemed to finally have lassoed the momentum for the first time all morning in Saturday’s semistate bout with Floyd Central. That single point never arrived.

Floyd Central batted away a match point in the No. 2 doubles clash and consequently sprinted to the finish, swiping the last three games for a 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 thrill-ride of a victory that tipped the Highlanders to a 3-2 semistate victory.

One moment, Jasper’s players and fans were poised to erupt, with a second straight visit to the team state finals in hand. Just a few minutes later, one of the most celebrated seasons in the program’s history was suddenly over.

“It was so close,” Jasper No. 1 singles player Abby Rogers said. “It was like, it was so close we could taste it.”

“Whenever (Hilsmeyer and Lueken) were up 5-4, we just saw we were going to win, we were going to go to state,” added Anna Flick, Jasper’s No. 3 singles player. “And then it just totally switched back over.”

Floyd Central somehow wrangled the tricky beast of momentum.

The Cats lagged 6-3, 2-0 at the No. 2 doubles match’s outset. They perked up to claim six of the next eight games. Hilsmeyer and Lueken slipped behind 2-1 in the third set, but climbed back on top 3-2 and maintained the edge until they were on the fringe of victory against Katherine Dauby and Erin Patterson.

“Momentum can turn in this game,” said Floyd Central coach Rick Miller, snapping his fingers, “like that. Sometimes it’s just one shot, one miss. It’s an attitude, it’s an intensity that changes a little bit. That’s kind of what happened here.”

A cardiac finish seemed fitting in a final set that contained a little bit of everything.

Lueken and Hilsmeyer, normally docile with their on-court celebrations, occasionally howled after smacking winners. For both fan sections, cheering for double-faults was no longer off-limits as part of the typical tennis decorum. At 3-all in the set, a line judge corrected an “out” call by the Highlanders, awarding the point to the Wildcats.

Rogers said she couldn’t bear to watch at junctures where her teammates were trying to land second serves in the court. At one point — while one of their teammates was finishing a three-set battle of her own in the other semistate match at the complex — a few players from Evansville Memorial even migrated over to witness the tail end of the drama, for which Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough saw no regrets about how his players handled the situation.

“You have a match point,” he said, “and that’s so emotional to have that match point,” said Yarbrough, who watched his doubles squad climb up 30-40 while leading 5-4 before Floyd Central ran off the final three points of the game — the first coming on a cold-blooded forehand winner up the middle to wipe away the match point.

Jasper senior twins Abby Rogers, left, and Ashley Rogers, screamed their support as the match-deciding No. 2 doubles battle progressed into the third set. Floyd Central knocked off the Cats 3-2 after Jasper beat the Highlanders by the same score in the regular season.

“It wasn’t like it was anything we did wrong. They just hit a better (shot). Every time, it almost looked like in the last five, six games of that set, it came down to who hit the better shot. ...We scrapped we hustled, we got after it, we just came up a little bit short, and that’s the part of competition that’s not any fun.”

Even as Yarbrough was the one to wipe away tears after the match, he called the No. 2 doubles battle the “vintage semistate last match on the court.” The match that couldn’t have been closer settled the score between two teams that won comfortably at two other positions.

Highlander standout Olivia Boesing beat Abby Rogers 6-2, 6-0, and Floyd Central (20-4) cornered a surprisingly decisive win at No. 1 doubles. Whitney Batliner and Dana Frank won 6-1, 6-2, handing Elizabeth Theil and Ashley Rogers just their fourth defeat this season and dashing the Wildcat seniors’ shot at making a run to the individual doubles state finals for a third successive year.

Jasper (19-3) bit back via its underclassman singles players. Maria Lueken waltzed by Alexis Applegate 6-0, 6-1 at No. 2 singles, and Flick bounced Alex Jamison 6-4, 6-2. Flick was coming off a setback to Northeast Dubois in the regional final and trailed 4-1 early, but grinded Jamison down with consistency to inject her team with some belief.

“I hate getting down like that, especially when I know I can definitely win. That’s how I was at regionals,” Flick said. “But I just tried my hardest to pull it out, and I knew that my team needed me to win that match.”

Yarbrough said his two singles winners “couldn’t have played any better.” The superlatives were even steeper for a group of four seniors whose exit was doleful but whose stay was mighty fruitful.
Scott Yarbrough will remember the Rogers twins, Hilsmeyer and Theil partly because they’re the last class to graduate from JHS that was coached by Scott’s father Ed, who died in June 2010. Wins — more than 300 of them — also make the senior group plenty memorable.

“Their records will speak for themselves, and they will speak loudly from what they’ve accomplished,” Yarbrough said of the seniors, who combined for 13 seasons of varsity experience and elevated the program to a state ranking in the top five the last three years running.

“This program hasn’t been ranked fifth, fifth and third (in consecutive years) in a long time; maybe never,” Yarbrough said. “What they’ve done has been unbelievable. They will be remembered fondly.”

Added Abby Rogers: “I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other team.”

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