By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
JOPLIN, Mo. – The race was on.
With the Joplin tennis team needing just one more victory to secure a district championship and end play in the Class 2 District 12 finals, who would get there first?
In No. 2 singles, Joplin’s Asa Borup held a 5-2 lead in the deciding second set. One court over, Nick Mailes was leading 6-5.
When spectators began to applaud around Borup’s court, Mailes knew he was too late.
“It was 40-15, are you kidding me?” he said.
Borup’s singles win capped a 5-0 day for the Eagles on Wednesday at Joplin High school. It marked the second-straight year Joplin beat Republic in the district championship.
“Something similar happened last year,” Joplin coach Ed Ingle said. “Asa finished just a fraction of a second before our No. 1 but he gave it to the No. 1 to say that he got the point. This year he secured the fifth point. It came back to him.”
The top-seeded Eagles cruised against the Tigers for the second time this season. Joplin, 16-3, won 8-1 at Republic three weeks ago.
“I knew going in today we were going to have a tough opponent,” Republic coach Dan Vales said. “I think they’ve gone undefeated in their matches in Missouri so we knew we had an uphill climb today. The biggest thing for us was just playing our side of the court well, make them work hard for points. I thought most of the matches today we did that so I was proud of the effort of our kids today.”
Republic’s No. 1 doubles team of Isaac Jordan and Kyle Thornhill won the first game of the day, but Joplin’s duo of Garret Lewis and Borup then won eight straight to close it out.
Joplin’s Kaden Seward and Bennett Satterlee opened up a 5-0 lead in No. 2 doubles and went on to win 8-3 against Matthew Berry and Jack Cook.
In No. 3 doubles, Joplin’s Mailes and Nolan Hance won 8-1 against Andrew Mcmillin and Ethan Ragsdale.
At that point, Vales knew the Tigers were in trouble.
“The biggest matches today were probably two and three doubles,” he said. “We really had to get off to a strong start in doubles to give us a chance. They were competitive matches but Joplin really raised their level at three and two and made it tough for us. Once they swept doubles that made it a really difficult hill for us to climb.”
Joplin got its fourth win in No. 1 singles, with Lewis dispatching Jordon 6-1, 6-0. Leading 4-0, Joplin was all but assured of a win.
“It feels good, definitely makes you feel comfortable,” Ingle said of the lead. “I liked some of the close matches. There were some close matches, especially with our No. 5 and also I believe our No. 6.”
“It definitely makes you feel more secure,” said Seward.
All that was left was the race between Borup and Mailes to finish off Republic. Borup won 6-0, 6-2 against Berry.
Ingle said Seward’s play was one of the day’s highlights.
“I can count on him just about every time in doubles and singles and he stood out,” he said. “Everybody played well today. Everybody played up a level since the last time we played Republic three weeks ago.”
“It was great,” Lewis said. “It’s a little bit of a rivalry in our district, Joplin and Republic, so we always look forward to playing them. They played a great match today but we were just able to come out and do better today and we delivered.”
As for Republic, the Tigers finish the year 12-5. They’ve made four-straight trips to the district finals.
“And we won a couple years so I’m proud of what the kids did and we have most of them back next year,” Vales said. “I’m looking forward to bigger and better things next year.”
Players from both teams will compete Friday in the individual district tournament. Joplin, meanwhile, will face the District 11 winner – either Branson or Kickapoo – on May 18 in the sectionals.