By KEVIN HARRIS
JASPER — Entering Saturday’s Jasper Semistate at the Ed Yarbrough Tennis Complex, the Jeffersonville boys’ tennis team thought it was prepared to compete with the ninth-ranked Wildcats.
Jasper was ready to compete, too.
The Wildcats earned their third consecutive berth in the IHSAA State Finals by ending one of the No. 12 Red Devils’ best seasons in program history with a 4-1 victory.
Jasper (18-3) will face No. 3 Indianapolis Park Tudor (14-4) in Friday’s quarterfinals of the state finals at Fishers High School. Jeff (19-2) was playing in its first semistate since 2010 when it reached the state finals.
“They were more competitive,” said Red Devils’ coach Mark Reilly, whose team lost its only two matches of the season to Jasper by 4-1 scores. “I think Jasper played well. I think if Jasper would’ve had just a little off-day, like one of their kids in singles would’ve let down, I think that would’ve really given us some momentum.”
The Wildcats won all three singles matches in straight sets. At No. 1 singles, Jasper senior Eli Seng downed Jeff’s Austin Hunt, 6-1, 6-2. Reilly felt like Seng’s style of play had a big effect on his junior standout.
“The guy was a serve-and-volleyer and really attacked the net well against Austin and pressured his backhand. Austin dictates with his forehand and the guy kind of took that away from him,” Reilly said. “Austin has come a long way this year. He is hitting his serve harder now. He hurt his shoulder [earlier in the season] and then he started serving soft. He wasn’t using that weapon. He did a good job of changing his serve as far as hitting it harder and still being consistent with him.”
Despite losing 6-3, 6-1 to Wildcat junior Grant Weaver, Red Devil sophomore Brock Winchell battled hard with Weaver during several points, which Reilly was happy to see.
“It seemed like Brock was right there with the guy,” Reilly said. “Even though it was [6-3, 6-1], it was a long match. Once [Weaver] broke away from him, the tension was gone for the Jasper guy. In the first set, [Weaver] was very tentative and I felt like we were right there on him.”
At No. 3 singles, Wildcat sophomore Logan Mathies defeated Jeff junior Connor Buntin, 6-2, 6-1. Buntin hanged with Mathies early in the first set, as he trailed 3-2. But Mathies gained control of the match by winning nine of the last 10 games.
“During the summer, Connor had played him in a tournament and had a set point against him. We knew that [Mathies] was favored, but then again we knew he was a sophomore and would be dealing with stress [in the match],” Reilly said.
The Red Devils’ lone point happened at No. 1 doubles. Jeff sophomores Sam Coward and Jack Reilly, the coach’s son, knocked off senior Luke Hochgesang and sophomore Joe Kemker, 6-3, 6-2.
Coach Reilly believed his No. 1 doubles players were ready to play after they lost 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) to the Highlanders’ Jack Stoner and Harrison Davis in Wednesday’s 4-1 win in the Floyd Central Regional final.
“I think losing to Floyd in the regional probably helped our guys stay loose,” the Jeff coach said. “The first set was really tight. But as soon as we broke [the Wildcats’ serve], I think our guys really relaxed.”
At No. 2 doubles, Red Devil seniors Chase Kayrouz and Justin Padgett lost in three sets to senior Ben Seng and sophomore Alex Allen, 7-6(7-5), 2-6, 7-5. The Jeff tandem led 4-1 in the third set, but allowed the Wildcats to win six out of the next seven games to close out the match. At one point in that stretch, the Red Devils were going for match point with a 5-4 lead.
“We probably won more points today at the two doubles match, but that’s how tennis is,” Coach Reilly said. “They won both of the tight sets. But I felt that both seniors did a good job.”
During the regular-season meeting with the Red Devils, Jasper coach Scott Yarbrough put Kemker at No. 3 singles and Mathies was at No. 1 doubles. Heading into the semistate, Mark Reilly kept his fingers crossed that Yarbrough would not alter that lineup.
Unfortunately for the Red Devils, that did not happen.
“I was hoping he would use that same lineup,” the Jeff boss said. “Jasper really attacks. But if you neutralize them right at first, it really helps you. They were not going to win the point on the first couple of hits, so I just thought we needed something real aggressive.”
Despite Saturday’s loss, Mark Reilly was proud of what his program accomplished in 2013.
“Winning the regional will help give them confidence. These guys were one match away from the state finals,” he said. “It’s nice when you work hard and things pay off. I think there is something inside them that will make them work harder.”
Kayrouz and Padgett are the only Jeff players who will be graduating. In turn, three Jeff junior varsity players - freshman Bradley Cross and juniors Kyle Mayrose and Logan Giles - are expected to get more varsity playing time next season. Plus sophomore Kooper Falkenstein, who helped the Red Devils win both their No. 2 doubles matches at last week’s regional, will be returning as well.
“I feel good about next year. It really is going to come down to who puts in the time [at practice],” Coach Reilly said.
JASPER 4, JEFFERSONVILLE 1
No. 1 — Eli Seng (Ja) d. Austin Hunt 6-1, 6-2.
No. 2 — Grant Weaver (Ja) d. Brock Winchell, 6-3, 6-1.
No. 3 — Logan Mathies (Ja) d. Connor Buntin 6-2, 6-1.
No. 1 — Jack Reilly-Sam Coward (Je) d. Luke Hochgesang-Joe Kemker 6-3, 6-2.
No. 2 — Ben Seng-Alex Allen (Ja) d. Chase Kayrouz-Justin Padgett 7-6(7-5), 2-6, 7-5.