Pushed to the brink of exhaustion, Noah Kass made one desperate lunge toward the ball speeding away from him. Kass, a cross country runner at Ashland High, had already logged far too many miles for one day, but a state tournament berth hung in the balance and so Kass summoned every ounce of strength in his slender body. But lunge as he might, the ball that was struck off the racket of Churchill's Conner Horne sliced half a step out of reach for a winner.
Taking advantage of his fatigued opponent and tidying up his own game, Horne rallied from a set down to beat Kass 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Midwestern District boys tennis tournament on Thursday at Hunter Park and deny the Ashland junior a spot in both the district semifinals next week and state tournament later this month
"After three long matches on a hot day, I didn't have anything left," Kass said.
Kass' match was a microcosm of the day for the Grizzlies, whose scrappy, spirited play earned them more victories (13) than any other team through the first three rounds of the seven-team tournament and a slim lead in the overall standings with 28 points.
But after advancing five entries (three singles, two doubles) to the quarterfinals, Ashland could come away with just one semifinalist — the doubles tandem of Jeff Laskos and Chas Bernard — leaving it virtually no chance to hold off Churchill (26 points) and Marshfield (22) when the tournament resumes in Eugene for semifinal action next Friday. When the dust settled early Thursday evening, the top four seeds in both singles and doubles were left standing and each earned spots in the state tournament.
Even Laskos and Bernard — who had won their second-round match 6-0, 6-0 — had to fight to earn their spot. The third-seeded doubles tandem dropped the first set of their quarterfinal match against Marshfield's David Perrin and Jamey Moriarity, before some tactical adjustments helped them rally for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 win to earn a spot at state for the first time.
"In the first set, we were a little off," said Laskos, a junior. "The second set was a new start and we pinched more at the net, so we didn't have quite as much room for groundstrokes and just played better."
Ashland's other doubles team to reach the quarterfinals — Alex Harris and Nick Cross — also performed more than respectably in a 6-4, 6-2 loss to top-seeded Lukas Holasek and Jessie Diamond of Thurston.
"Today we came out ready to play, we just didn't have a couple of finishes at crucial points," Ashland coach Dick Streng said. "They all played with a lot of heart."
No one more so than Kass. The junior won a pair of matches by using his foot speed to chase down balls and offspeed shots to befuddle harder-hitting opponents and reach the quarterfinals. He took the first set against Horne, a freshman who was seeded fourth.
"He was making errors in the first set and I was just putting the ball in play," Kass said. "In the second and third sets he started not making unforced errors and that's when he got me."
Horne broke Kass' serve twice in the final set, taking a 5-2 lead before Kass broke back for 5-3, giving himself one final opportunity. But he couldn't summon any additional energy; his serve reduced to creampuffs for Horne to hammer returns in the final game.
"Even up until the end, I didn't lose hope,' Kass said. "He has big shots. I can get away with my style of play when somebody doesn't have those shots and is making errors."
"I was happy to get this far. I came in with no expectations and I made it to the quarterfinals, one set away from state."
Kass was one of three Grizzlies to reach the singles quarterfinals before falling to seeded opponents. Earlier in the day, sophomore Quincy Briscoe rolled his ankle, but put up a valiant fight before losing to Thurston's James Forrest 6-3, 7-5. Ashland's Nate Harris saw a second-set lead slip away before falling to Marshfield's Jon Massie 6-2, 6-4
Briscoe, an attacking player whose powerful serve and precision volleys had already earned him a pair of victories earlier in the day, was down a set and a service break twice against Forrest before rallying to take a 5-3 lead in the second. He was two points away from winning the set before missing a crucial overhead to lose his serve at 5-4.
Still, Briscoe seemed in control, serving at 5-all, 40-15 before four straight unforced errors — including another overhead into the net — cost him another service game. Forrest closed out the match on his serve in the next game, hitting an impeccable topspin lob that caught the baseline on match point.
"Those overheads killed my morale pretty bad," Briscoe said. "I think I was trying to go too big, trying to get the ace or the big overhead."
Harris held a 4-1 lead in the second set of his match against the second-seeded Massie, before Massie won the final five games.
"He came back out and had this whole nother source of energy," Harris said. "I just couldn't stay with it."
Team scores (thru three of five rounds)
1, Ashland, 28.
2, Churchill, 26.
3, Marshfield, 22.
4, Thurston, 18.
5, Springfield, 14.
T6, Willamette, 2.
T6, North Eugene, 2.
Results (for Ashland matches only)
Seedings in paranthesis
Jordan Alexander, Ashland, def. Steven Roberts, Willamette, 6-1, 6-0.
Quincy Briscoe, Ashland, def. Scott Bell, No. Eugene, 6-0, 6-0.
Noah Kass, Ashland, def. David Stys, Marshfield, 7-5, 6-2.
Nate Harris, Ashland, def. James Hongpoonpipat, Thurston, 6-4, 6-2.
Chris Wiechart (1), Churchill, def. Jordan Alexander, Ashland, 6-0, 6-0.
Quincy Briscoe, Ashland, def. Robert Rudinsky, Churchill, 6-2, 6-7 (5),6-0.
Noah Kass, Ashland, def. Fabian Kozak, Willamette, 6-4, 6-2.
Nate Harris, Ashland, def. Andrew Epperson, Springfield, 6-0, 6-1.
Jeff Forrest (3), Thurston, def. Quincy Briscoe, Ashland, 6-3, 7-5.
Connor Horne (4), Churchill, def. Noah Kass, Ashland, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3.
Jon Massie (2), Marshfield, def. Nate Harris, Ashland, 6-2,6-4.
Nick Cross-Alex Harris, Ashland, def. James Juelke-Gage Pallo, Marshfield, 6-1, 6-0.
Clint Gorbett-Min-Oh Suh, Ashland, def. Zach Konnie-Taylor Ritchie, Churchill, 6-2, 7-5.
Josh Harris-Carl Gorbett, Ashland, def. Jesus Diaz-Clayton Jones, Willamette, 6-3, 6-1.
Nick Cross-Alex Harris, Ashland, def. Corey Martin-Peter Huang, Churchill, 6-2,6-1.
Markus Boesl-Colby Trull (4), Marshfield, def. Clint Gorbett-Min-Oh Suh, Ashland, 6-3,7-6(7).
Jeff Laskos-Chas Bernard (3),Ashland, def. Trevor Rippee-Connor Taggart, Churchill, 6-2, 6-1.
Matt Walker-Daniel Nellis (2), Churchill, def. Josh Harris-Carl Gorbett, Ashland, 6-3, 6-2.
Lukas Holasek-Jessie Diamond (1), Thurston, def. Nick Cross-Alex Harris, Ashland, 6-4, 6-2.
Jeff Laskos-Chas Bernard (3), Ashland,def. David Perrin-Jamey Moriarity, Marshfield, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.