Wildcats win never-say-die regionalOctober 5, 2017
By HENDRIX MAGLEY
JASPER — Sweat dripped from Jasper senior Dawson Hopf’s forehead as he prepared for another of his powerful serves.
Northeast Dubois senior Case Eisenhut flung his body toward the court, diving all out to return a ball that barely squeaked over the net for a Jeep point.
Even with Jasper holding an insurmountable 4-0 lead at the time, the two seniors playing at No. 1 singles for Jasper and Northeast Dubois weren’t planning on just throwing in the towel — it’s just not the mindset either of them play with.
“I always try my best to never, ever give up,” Hopf said. “This match was a lot of fun. We knew that they would pack in the crowd, and we brought a lot of fans as well. It just makes it a hundred times better when the fans get into it with you, it helps give you the motivation to fight to the finish.”
Hopf finished the match with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory as the No. 16 Wildcats defeated the Jeeps 5-0 on Wednesday night at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex to clinch their seventh consecutive regional title and 23rd overall championship.
Eisenhut knew there was a possibility Wednesday would mark the final time he’d be able to wear the Jeeps blue and white on the tennis court, so even once he knew his team wouldn’t advance past the regional final, the motivation to get one last victory never slowed down.
“My goal was always to just get as far as I possibly could since it’s my last year. It just slipped away this time,” Eisenhut said. “I know I fought hard, I just feel that at the end of the day we’re athletes and they’re tennis players and that’s the biggest part. I feel like we did a pretty good job for our talent level.”
Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough felt the Wildcats (17-3) played tough from the beginning against the Jeeps (19-1) and showed gusto at key moments.
“I was a little worried about how we would come out and react because sometimes we can play ‘loosey-goosey,’ which I know can be good at times but it can also be bad,” Yarbrough said. “I thought that our guys played a gutsy performance. There was a lot of hustle on both sides.”
While Hopf’s match was the last to come to completion, the No. 2 singles bout wasn’t far behind.
Jasper junior Eli Franks and Northeast Dubois sophomore Reece Bauer battled back and forth, with Franks coming away victorious by a 6-3, 6-3 margin. When Franks realized three matches had already ended in the win column for the Cats, he said it made him more confident to finish off his own fight.
“Just knowing that my team already got the win really relaxed me and helped me to have a little more fun with it,” Franks said. “Our team won, I won, we’re going to semi-state — it’s a pretty good day.”
While there wasn’t a plethora of yelling from teammate to teammate in the Franks/Bauer match, Franks’ loud reactions after a good point or a tough shot got away rang loud through the complex.
For Franks, the yelling helps to loosen up not only him, but also the guys playing around him.
“When I get excited and start getting my shots in, it also helps get my teammates get pretty excited as well,” Franks said. “You just have to go out there and have fun with it and play like you usually do. At the end of the day, it’s just a tennis match. You have to just be able to think like that.”
Bauer, playing in his first ever regional championship match, thought the stage brought a little extra nervousness he wasn’t quite prepared for.
“I felt that I had a lot more jitters this year compared to last year because then I didn’t really know what to expect,” Bauer said. “I know that I didn’t perform that bad, but I also could’ve done a lot better. I just feel like this stage and this atmosphere can do a lot to you.”
But just like Eisenhut, Bauer refused to give in and let the match fall apart. His players’ all-out effort to keep matches competitive was no surprise to Northeast Dubois coach Dwayne Knies.
“The team match was over and these guys were still out there fighting their hearts out,” Knies said. “Case has had a hell of a career. I’m so proud of everything that he’s accomplished. Reece will be back next year, and I love the competitive nature he shows, I knew that he wasn’t going to stop — he was going to fight until the very end.”
With a semi-state battle against Evansville Memorial looming Saturday at noon, the Cats — who will host the event — will look to use their experience to return to the state finals for the first time since 2015 after being defeated 5-0 by Bloomington South last season at semi-state.
For Franks, who will be playing in his third semi-state match, nerves still come into play — at least at the beginning of a match, until he settles in and feels comfortable.
But for Hopf, who’s readying for his second semi-state appearance, he’s never been one to get the case of the nerves.
“I think I handle them pretty well usually,” Hopf said with a laugh. “I also feel that we have a pretty good chance to win, so that will help calm the nerves if there are any.”
While nervous energy might not be a part of Hopf’s match-day checklist, a pre-match meal is.
It might not be the place you’d expect to see an athlete before a big contest, but Hopf guarantees you’ll find him where the Golden Arches light up.
“I know McDonald’s doesn’t sound good, but I try to always get the healthy stuff,” Hopf said while Yarbrough was quick to yell at him with a joking, ‘No, you don’t!’
“I usually eat a yogurt and a plain McChicken,” Hopf continued. “I know it sounds bad, but it’s really not.”
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