Wildcats grind their way to state tourney berths
Bleak was the appropriate way to describe the situation facing Brandon Keller and Clark Ligon on Friday at the Class 5A Region 5 tournament.
Down one set and trailing 5-2 in the second, the Fruita Monument No. 1 doubles team appeared to be done for the season.
They were playing the Grand Junction team of Max Nikkari and Riley King in the winner-take-all playback round of the tournament.
Playbacks are the equally joyous and heartbreaking part of regionals. Win and it’s off to state; lose and the season is done. Playbacks occur when the third-place finishers have not played the second-place finishers.
Keller and Ligon had lost all three matches this season to the Tigers’ team.
There was a lot of pressure on Fruita’s team, which was on the brink of elimination.
Undaunted, they stayed alive: match point No. 1 survived; match point No. 2 vanquished; match point No. 3 flicked away.
Then the Wildcats’ team went on to take the set and win the match 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.
A rowdy group of Fruita teammates mobbed the two seniors with cheers and congratulatory hugs and high-fives as they left the court.
“It was a very close match,” Keller said. “This is easily the best we’ve played all year.”
The final meeting between the doubles teams before regionals was tight, with the Tigers winning, taking the third set after trailing 5-2.
“After that last match, I knew we could do it,” Ligon said.
Keller and Ligon made all the shots at all the right times. From wicked drop shots to precise lobs to passing shots, the team’s confidence kept building as the third set arrived.
“It was scary, I just had to focus on getting my shots in,” Ligon said.
Ligon summed up how they rallied for the win.
“Being aggressive at the net, getting volleys in and getting returns back,” he said. “After we got it done in the second set we were able to carry it through in the third set.
“I think this is the best tournament we’ve played all year.”
Nikkari and King lost in the finals to Rocky Mountain’s Noah Sorensen and Riley Thompson 6-2, 7-5.
As the epic No. 2 doubles playback match raged on, at an adjacent court, Fruita Monument’s No. 4 doubles team was cruising to a state berth.
Jon May and August Pomrenke, both freshmen, lost in the finals 6-1, 4-6, 6-1, but made quick work of the playback match.
They punched their ticket to state, which begins Oct. 12 at Gates Tennis Center in Denver, with a 6-0, 6-0 win.
“It’s surreal, like I never expected it,” Pomrenke said. “I’m playing with my best friend, it’s great.”
May said the finals proved to be a nerve-wracking three sets.
“It’s really exciting, I was not expecting (to make state) this season,” May said.