A second-round knockout is usually bad, but for Indian River’s varsity tennis team — it’s a good thing.
Three of the four teams the Indians sent to the state tournament on May 21 played well enough to make it into the second round, which isn’t bad considering their competition.
The first-ranked doubles team of senior Sean McMullen and junior Zack Mitchell cruised past St. Thomas More, 6-1, 6-0, but was put to the test against the No. 3 seed in the tournament — Salesianum’s best pair.
McMullen and Mitchell dropped their first set to Salesianum, 3-6, but they answered the bell in the second set by winning 6-3.
The bell they answered was theirs after Salesianum stole the first two games of the set. Down 0-2, McMullen and Mitchell took the ball in their hands — literally.
McMullen’s serve overpowered Salesianum in the third game. He pounded his initial serve and the ball quickly found its way into scoring territory. Salesianum found themselves on their heels. McMullen also blasted a double-fisted backhand down the baseline past a lunging opponent for the first score of the game.
Both Indians players picked up the pace and hit the ball with more velocity, forcing Saleisianum to hit wide. Mitchell put the icing on the cake with a quick poke back at their feet, to win their first game of set.
The bleeding had stopped for Indian River, and McMullen and Mitchell seemed to get their legs back. They went on to win the next four games to give them a 5-2 advantage and the possibility of winning the set with one more win in the next game.
That game was a war of attrition. Back and forth both teams went, with neither team really grabbing hold of the game. It went to deuce five times, and McMullen/Mitchell held the advantage three of those times.
But Salesianum has too good a program to let the win hang and that proved to be the case. They scored two quick points to win the game and cut the Indians’ advantage to 5-3.
Both teams showed signs of frustration – shooting glances at their rackets, as if somehow the ball had gone straight through the strings, and muttering after making unforced errors.
After taking another shot on the chin, the Indians duo finished the second set quickly and in convincing fashion.
McMullen scored the first two points of the next game at the net. The second point put McMullen in a rapid-fire situation where the two net players traded several volleys before the Indians eventually prevailed for a 30-love advantage.
From there, Mitchell was able to seal the deal on the set. He pushed them back and forth. The placement was too much and Salesianum faltered. Mitchell unloaded on Salesianum for the fourth and final straight point, to win the second set.
Each team had won a set and neither was likely to be thinking about past records, rankings or points. The name of the game was who could get to six games first, and that may be where McMullen and Mitchell failed.
Salesianum and Indian River split the first two matches, with McMullen and Mitchell winning the second.
Salesianum capitalized on the Indians over-anxiousness at the net and were able to push ahead to earn a 2-1 advantage. Salesianum won the next two sets to get within an arm’s length of advancing to the next round.
With their backs against the wall, McMullen and Mitchell shook off their mental errors and went on to win their second game of the set — but it would be their last.
Salesianum won the match 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, but the score wasn’t indicative of how close the match really was.
“A point here and a point there, and (McMullen and Mitchell) would have upset a No. 3 seed,” said Head Coach Sean Oates.
Third-ranked singles player junior Chad Brasure earned his first second-round appearance by beating Glasgow’s No. 3, 6-2, 6-2. Brasure floundered against St. Mark’s third seed — losing 6-0, 6-1.
Second-ranked doubles team of juniors Tommy Reichart and Charlie Cole skated past McKean 6-3, 6-2 before losing in the second round, 6-2, 6-3.
Cole and fellow junior Ed Smith had been partners toward the end of the season and in the conference tournament, but Smith missed the state competition due to a prior commitment to play in another tournament.
Despite the defeats, Oates said he is certain that next season will bring even better results. The Indians will return six starting players, leaving only one position available. That seems to be a plus for the program.
“We have six guys with extensive playing experience returning and two experienced exhibition players behind them coming back next year. We have also had some interest from some of these guys’ friends. They’ve seen these guys have some success this year and want to be apart of it,” said Oates.
“Depending on how much these guys play in the off-season, we could be a real player in the conference. Teams we played tough this season are losing their best players. Seaford loses four or five, Caesar Rodney loses their top four and Milford loses their top five,” said Oates.
Improvement seems to be the mantra for the Indians boy’s varsity tennis team this off-season, and everything seems to be in place for more success next season.
“These guys have talked about playing together this summer and joining Sea Colony this winter, which historically hasn’t happened in the past. Usually, tennis is only a spring sport for these guys but they’ve enjoyed themselves this year,” said Oates.
“I’ll let them know about any tournaments they can get into or about any moderately priced clinics to help them improve,” he added, already plotting strategy for a promising season to come.