In so many cases, the bigger the match, the more pressure the No. 5 and No. 6 singles players experience on a tennis team.
That was certainly the case Tuesday night at Baumgardner Park, where Grain Valley’s No. 5 singles player Tristin Whitton and No. 6 Brady Slater needed to pull off dramatic wins if the Eagles were to live to play another day. And they delivered.
Whitton topped Blue Springs’ Carson Rothove 6-0, 6-4 to tie their Class 4 District 14 semifinal match at four wins each.
Following Rothove’s win, all eyes focused on Court No. 6, where Slater and the Wildcats’ Daniel Gordon were playing to determine the semifinal winner.
Slater, who started the season on the junior varsity squad, topped Gordon 6-3, 6-2 to set up a 4 p.m. match today against Blue Springs South on the Jaguars’ home court – weather permitting – in the Class 2 District 14 championship.
As the Slater-Gordon match progressed, every fan, teammate and coach moved to the east court to watch an epic battle between two strong-willed players who were giving it everything they had.
“This is the time of year you want to be playing your best tennis and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now,” Grain Valley coach Randy Draper said. “You could tell how much (the No. 6 singles) match meant to each of the guys out there.
“Brady has come so far this season. And nothing ever seems to faze him. Every person at this tennis complex came over to watch this final match and he’s out there playing like no one is watching.
“He played stress free. I wish I could say the same thing – today, I had the stress. But Brady stays cool and calm.”
The Eagles went into singles play with a lead after winning two of three doubles matches. Dean Mobley and Bryson Martin won 8-5 and Whitton and Jesse Arnold won 8-4.
The No. 1 Wildcats team of Luke David and Dylan Shryer won 8-5.
David then beat Joel Florida 7-5, 6-2 at No. 1 singles, Shyrer topped Mobley 7-5, 6-1 at No. 2 singles and Jay’von McKinney got past Martin 6-2, 6-3 at No. 4.
The Eagles needed three singles wins and got them from No. 3 Trent Tarrants, Whitton and Slater.
Tarrants beat Josh Gordon 7-5, 6-1 to put the spotlight on Whitton and Slater.
“I kind of knew what was happening with Trent’s match when everyone came from his match over to mine and I heard he won,” Whitton said. “That meant I had to win and Brady had to win for us to win this semifinal match and we were able to do it.
“When I won 6-0 I had a lot of confidence and I was able to win the second set 6-4 and then everyone went up to watch Brady play.”
Slater, who has a serve that has been timed at 92 mph, used that serve to claim the biggest win of his young career.
“I really don’t get nervous, even when everyone comes over to my match and watches us play,” Slater said. “I knew that Trent and Whitton had won and that I had to win to win the semifinals.”
Slater led 3-0 in the second set, but Gordon broke his serve and made it a 3-2 match before Slater regained his serving touch and claimed the big win.
“This is my fifth No. 6 singles match,” the Eagles junior said, “and I just wanted to stay in my zone and help my team win.”
Wildcats coach Anna Cole offered Draper and his team congratulations before leaving the courts for the final time this season.
“I’m disappointed we lost, because the guys have worked so hard and improved so much this season,” Cole said. “In the past, we didn’t have the talent or the confidence to reach the semifinals and today, we almost got a big win.
“But even though we didn’t win I am super proud of my guys and how far we came as a team this season.”