In coach Jody McClain’s mind, good starts helped Blue Springs finish second at Friday’s Truman High School Boys Tennis Invitational Tournament at Santa Fe Trail Park.
The Wildcats won three of their opening matches en route to scoring 23 points and securing their runner-up spot. Those winners included doubles partners Mitchell Wilhoit and Sam Phillips, who finished second in the A division.
“That’s big – to win that first match in a tournament like this, when (there are) four divisions,” McClain said. “That kind of puts you in the top four automatically.”
Wilhoit and Phillips found the three opening wins to be emotionally satisfying.
“We don’t have a bunch of seniors on the team this year,” said Wilhoit, who is a senior, along with Phillips. “So for the lowerclassmen to step up like that and actually win their matches, I think, is really awesome. And I’m really psyched at how they’re going to do next year.”
The Wildcats finished 17 points behind tournament champion Barstow, a Class 1 state quarterfinalist last season. The Knights swept the doubles and singles titles. However, Blue Springs threatened to pull off a comeback win in the A doubles final. Wilhoit and Phillips trailed 6-5 before Steven Ketchmark and Ben Abbas swept the four remaining games of the pro-10 set.
A key strength for Ketchmark and Abbas is their ability to force opponents to make difficult, low-percentage shots, according to Phillips.
“(That) just really puts us in a tough spot, to where we have to hit a really good ball every single time,” he said. “We just weren’t able to do it that time.”
Blue Springs was among three area schools at the 10-team tournament. William Chrisman tied Raymore-Peculiar for sixth with 13 points. Junior Nick Hurt reached the Class A singles finals, where he fell 10-1 to Barstow’s Fletcher Scott.
“I just couldn’t really keep it away from his forehand,” Hurt said. “He was just controlling the whole time.”
Still, Bears coach Jim Pickett said Hurt didn’t disappoint.
“We expected him to play for first,” Pickett said. “And he did.”
It was the second time in three seasons that Hurt has placed second at the tournament. Coincidentally, he faced a Barstow player for the championship his freshman season.
When asked why Barstow’s players are difficult to defeat, Hurt replied: “They just practice a lot, have good coaches, all that. They’re just really into it. They’re tough.”
Truman tied for eighth with Oak Park with 11 points. Patriots coach Willis Blinzler saw some encouraging signs from Truman’s doubles play – particularly from Sam Heacock and Jewllian Cordry, who fell to Ray-Pec’s Clint Gardner and Alex Oberlander 10-9.
“It was probably the best doubles match both those guys have played all year long,” Blinzler said.
Overall, Blinzler saw more consistency from the Patriots.
“Hopefully, we can just take what we learned today and continue on,” he said.