BREMEN — While the final score may have ended up the same as the two teams’ first meeting earlier this month, Wednesday’s Bremen Sectional opener between the host Lions and Triton was anything but a foregone conclusion.
Bremen clinched the match 4-1, but 2 singles and 2 doubles both split sets, and the 1 singles match went to a second-set tiebreaker. With the Lions leading two matches to one, it looked like the Trojans might even up the score with a win at 2 singles as Dean Howdeshell led Jalen Bayer 5-2 in the third set following a dominant 6-0 victory in the second set. But Bayer stormed back with some aggressive net play and a strong service game to beat Howdeshell 7-4 in a third-set tiebreak, clinching Bremen its final match point as the Lions advanced to play LaVille in a sectional semifinal tonight at DeSantis Courts.
“Jalen is a key part of our team. When he plays well, he plays really, really well,” said Bremen head coach Andrew Rohde. “We’ve talked about this all year, it’s been our theme of kind of having ups and downs. He’s up 5-0 in the first set and the kid claws back a little bit. We lose the second set 6-0, we’re down 5-2 (in the third), and then we have an upswing. We just talked about staying even keel. He’s getting really good at keeping his head straight and just getting through things. I’m really proud of him because that was a real pivotal match for him, and hopefully that will bode well for the future as well.”
Howdeshell began to look fatigued as the match wore on. The Triton second-flighter’s footwork started to lag in the third set while Bayer still looked fresh, using serve-and-volley techniques to put his Trojans counterpart away 6-2, 0-6, 7-6(4).
Howdeshell entered Wednesday’s sectional opener after playing in a pair of three-setters at the Northern State Conference Tournament which ended at 10:30 p.m. Monday, but Triton head coach Allen Peckham looked more toward Bayer’s play in the third set than any fatigue on Howdeshell’s part in determining the final outcome.
“He got up early in the third set, but then I thought Jalen made some nice shots to get him in it,” said Peckham. “And then I felt like Dean did hit a couple, I don’t know, I’m not going to say sloppy hits but it looked like his footwork wasn’t getting there in time. He was just barely behind on some of the shots. So it could have affected him playing tonight after going so late there (at NSCs), but I felt like he still played very well. He stayed in it, and I think Jalen just came up with some perfect serves at the perfect times. You’ve got to credit him to dig down to keep from losing.”
Triton’s lone win came at 1 doubles where Pete Kauffman paired with former Triton No. 1 singles player Jeff Ross for a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Nate Strehler and Joe Zeltwanger. While the Trojans close out their team season, Ross and Kauffman remain alive in the doubles state tournament.
“It started towards the beginning of the year when we went to the Mishawaka Marian Tournament, and they said they wanted to play together. They played so well together and dominated and I had so many comments from other coaches that it was one of the best doubles teams they’d seen,” said Peckham of partnering Ross with Kauffman. “So I thought well, I might try to get them qualified. For non-conference matches they kept playing doubles and Lucas (Shafer) went to 1. I just want to thank Lucas because he took some of the brunt at No. 1 because he’s played some real quality players. He’s sacrificed himself for the team for that.”
Meanwhile at 1 singles, Shafer hung tough with Bremen’s Brad Foster in the second set but ultimately succumbed 6-1, 7-6(4) for Bremen’s second match point of the night. Wes Burkholder beat Jared Fisher in a pair of closely contested 6-4 sets at 3 singles for the Lions’ first point of the night, and Bayer’s win at 2 singles salted away the win.
With the meet already in the record books, Krenten Hueni and Tommy Foster trumped Triton’s Darren Harrell and Austin Sellers in three sets at 2 doubles, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, to bring the score to its final margin.
“A real competitive match. We beat Triton once already this year. We knew that they’d switched their lineup a little bit, but we knew even the first go-round that we played really, really well, and we knew that they’d come out fighting today and they did,” said Rohde. “Every spot was competitive. There wasn’t one spot that we had a gimme match. We had to fight for the four matches that we did win.”
“Maybe on paper we lose 4-1, but you look at it, all in all, it was close. I tell our guys that in a 10-game match, sometimes it’s only six points that are the difference between winning or losing a set,” said Peckham. “We played very well; we battled. The only thing was I thought we started a little slow in the beginning, but I thought we picked it up. They played to the point where I thought they had a chance to get back in it and win. And that’s all you can ask for is for them to keep fighting.”
Bremen advances to play NSC foe LaVille tonight, while 15-time defending champion Plymouth plays John Glenn in the other semifinal with the championship scheduled for Friday.
While the inexperienced Lancers have struggled with a winless record this season, the Lions won’t be overlooking them tonight. Rohde believes Strehler and Zeltwanger’s play at 1 doubles is going to be key for the team’s chances at the tourney, and he hopes to see them bounce back strong from Monday’s loss tonight.
“We talked about how we can’t look to tomorrow, we’ve got to make sure we take care of today. We took care of today. Now we’ll look at LaVille and not past that and just worry about them and hopefully just take care of business,” said Rohde.
Triton closes out a successful 9-5 season in which the team found itself in the hunt for an NSC title along with Bremen before Jimtown clinched the team title at the conference tourney Monday. With only two seniors on this year’s team, Peckham is already looking forward to next year.
“We had a great year. Out of our five losses, I thought we were in the matches. Plymouth was the only one I thought — even though 3-2 was the scores — they were still a little bit dominant at the other spots,” he said. “From losing four off the team and not knowing how my lineup was going to be at the beginning of the year and how I would place everybody… I thought this team ended the season real well. We had chances to win conference, and a lot of times if you just have a chance you had a good year. A lot of schools can’t say they had that chance or even had a winning year.
“We’re only losing two seniors, so the future of Triton tennis is going to be bright. In some ways I can’t wait until next year.”
• BREMEN 4, TRITON 1
At Bremen Sectional
SINGLES: 1. Brad Foster (B) beat Lucas Shafer 6-1, 7-6(4); 2. Jalen Bayer (B) beat Dean Howdeshell 6-2, 0-6, 7-6(4); 3. Wes Burkholder (B) beat Jared Fisher (T) 6-4, 6-4.
DOUBLES: 1. Pete Kauffman-Jeff Ross (T) beat Nate Strehler-Joe Zeltwanger 6-2, 6-1; 2. Krenten Hueni-Tommy Foster (B) beat Darren Harrell-Austin Sellers 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.
Records: Bremen 13-5, Triton 9-5 (final)