OTTUMWA — In the end, it all came down to the Ottuma duo of Alec Maas and Jacob Gardner against Iowa City High Saturday at Dan Staggs Courts.
Every other match had been completed. The meet was tied, 4-4. Fans and players ambled over to take in the action on the court. Head coach Alan Paris and former coach Dan Staggs offered advice between breaks in play, but they could only do so much. It was in Maas and Gardner’s hands now. They alone would determine if Ottumwa would advance to the next round of Class 2A substate action.
That’s the way it sometimes works in sports — occasionally the less exalted players get a chance to be the heroes (at least heroes in sports sense of the word). And fortunately for Ottumwa, Gardner and Maas proved to be up to the task, beating Iowa City’s Drew Jaspers and Drew Abrams 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 as the Bulldogs took the 5-4 win.
“We kind of got a a little down on ourselves during that first set,” Gardner said. “[We] got some energy and momentum going in the second set and, once we started getting going and playing together I didn’t think they could stop us.”
Paris was not surprised at the competitiveness of the meet.
“I didn’t know which match it would come down to, but I knew it would probably come down to one match, and it just happened to be the No. 3 doubles team. They stepped up,” he said. “They are on [sometimes], they are off sometimes. When it counted, they were on.
“They just missed the first set, but the second and third set they played strong and played ahead, and you can’t be more proud of them for keeping their heads.”
After dropping the first set to the Little Hawks, Gardner and Maas showed their resiliency by comfortably winning the second set, 6-2.
They managed to go up 3-2 in the third set. Then Maas helped extend his team’s lead to 4-2 with a couple of nice serves — sneaking a devil-may-care grin at a couple of people in the audience after one of them — including an ace that won the game for the Bulldogs.
Maas and Gardner upped their lead to 5-2 before dropping a game to the Little Hawks. But that was all the resistance the Iowa City duo could muster, as Maas and Gardner rebounded to win the next game and win the match.
“The crowd helped us through in that third set and we came back and got it,” Maas said.
While Maas and Gardner secured the meet in favor of Ottumwa, the Bulldogs were buoyed by Sam Kramer’s all-important victory in No. 6 singles action earlier.
Things were not going well for Ottumwa — they trailed 3-2 in the meet — and Kramer was down a set to Jaspers after losing a tiebreaker. Kramer, however, was able to shake off the setback and win the second set, 6-3. With the momentum now firmly in his favor, the Bulldog freshman went on to dominate the final set, 6-0.
Not much about Saturday’s victory was easy for the Bulldogs, as the Little Hawks made them earn every bit of their victory.
Even Ottumwa’s No. 1 singles star C.J. Ray had to ward off a spirited challenge from Iowa City’s Wes Steffen.
Ray appeared to be on is way to an easy victory early, as he overwhelmed his opponent with welting serves, hard volleys at the net, drop shots and scorching forehands that Steffen could only watch despairingly as they whizzed past him. Ray took the first set 6-0 and all signs pointed to an easy sweep.
But Steffen came alive in the second set, matching Ray point for point before eventually triumphing in a tiebreaker. Unfortunately for Steffen, his victory only seemed to only reinvigorate Ray, who quickly took back control of the match. This time Steffen couldn’t keep pace, as Ray won the third set 6-0 in a dominating performance.
Steve Ray also played an integral role in Ottumwa’s win. Not only did he win his No. 2 singles match over Sean Mullan 7-5, 6-0, he also — along with partner Jared Bohlmann — won his No. 2 doubles match. Ray and Bohlmann and swept the Little Hawks’ Andrew Brown and Erik McCoy 6-3, 7-5.
The Bulldogs play Cedar Rapids Washington Saturday at Iowa City West in their second Class 2A Substate meet Saturday. If the team is victorious, they will play later that afternoon.
Ottumwa 5, Iowa City 4
No. 1 — C.J. Ray (O) def. Wes Steffen (IC) 6-0, 7-6 (7-2), No. 2 — Steve Ray (O) def. Sean Mullan (IC) 7-5, 6-0, No. 3 — Erik McCoy (IC) def. Jared Bohlmann (O) 6-0, 6-1, No. 4 — Andrew Brown (IC) def. Seth White (O) 6-0, 6-1, No. 5 — Drew Abrams (IC) def. Jacob Gardner (O) 6-1, 6-3, No. 6 — Sam Kramer (O) def. Drew Jaspers (IC) 6-7 (7-2), 6-3, 6-0.
No. 1 — Steffen/Mullan (IC) def. C.J. Ray/Kramer 6-2, 6-4, No. 2 — Steve Ray/Bohlmann def. Brown/McCoy 6-3, 7-5, No. 3 — Alec Maas/Gardner def. Jaspers/Abrams (IC) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.