As close as it gets

The Marshalltown boys’ tennis team was warned to avoid getting caught flat-footed due to high winds wreaking havoc across the MHS courts on Saturday morning.

Not to mention Southeast Polk’s refusal to go down without a fight.

Two all-too-familiar Central Iowa Conference foes found themselves face-to-face for the second time in six days, but with so much more on the line. In the end, and not a moment before then, Marshalltown escaped with a 5-4 victory over the Rams to advance through their Class 2A preliminary substate clash.

“That was unreal, all three doubles matches finishing within two minutes of each other, and right up until the end you didn’t know on any court who was going to win,” said Bobcats head coach James Christensen. “It was whoever was riding the momentum wave last, and that was luckily us.”

Marshalltown claimed a pair of pivotal singles matches to take a 4-2 lead into doubles competition in Saturday’s best-of-nine showdown. Needing just one more triumph to advance to next weekend’s substate semifinals, all three doubles contests swung back and forth before each found their way into deciding third sets.

When Southeast Polk’s No. 1 doubles team of Sam Rice and David Conway came up with a 7-5 first-set win over Marshalltown’s Ryan Shomo and Kalei Platt, the rest of the Rams took notice.

Josh Atzen, playing on SEP’s No. 2 doubles team, looked down the court and urged the attention of the rest of this teammates.

The surprising outcome of that first set – quite the opposite of Monday’s 6-0, 6-0 spanking handed down by Marshalltown’s top pair – inspired the Rams’ Nos. 2 and 3 doubles tandems to comeback victories.

But Rice and Conway could not hold down Shomo and Platt, who finally put away the deciding victory, 5-7, 7-6 (7-1), 6-1, mere seconds after Southeast Polk had tied the match at 4-all.

“We barely survived in the third set but our No. 1 doubles ended up winning,” noted Christensen. “We were in control early with the other two matches we ended up losing, but we came back at No. 1 doubles and we won.”

The Bobcats carried the same 4-2 lead out of singles action that they had on Monday in Pleasant Hill, but two of the match results were flip-flopped. Atzen eked out a 6-3, 7-5 win at No. 3 over Blake Gimbel, but Marshalltown’s Riley Wirth turned the tables on Luke Tully at No. 6 in a 6-4, 7-5 triumph.

Christensen also pegged Adam Podhajsky’s three-set win over Austin Acord at No. 4 singles, though nearly identical to Monday’s match, as a key triumph for the Bobcats. On Saturday Podhajsky claimed a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory.

“Having Riley and Adam win those was just enormous to take the pressure off, knowing that we only needed one doubles point – which we barely got,” he said.

Shomo (12-2) and Platt (9-3) took care of business at Nos. 1 and 2 singles, winning in straight sets, while SEP’s Nate Salzburg defeated Jameson Eberline at No. 5.

The No. 1 doubles tandems were first to the court, but the opening set went a long way to alter the final outcome.

“I knew how tough of a team they were and I knew how we had a couple balls bounce our way the last time that we might not get so lucky today,” Christensen said, “and especially with that wind. It made every single point a battle. Wind is a great equalizer in tennis – the best players and the worst players get a lot closer together, and this was a battle.”

The reward for Marshalltown is its second trip into the substate semifinals in the last three seasons. The Bobcats will face powerhouse Ames on May 18 in Ankeny, while the host Hawks will meet Fort Dodge in the other half of the bracket.

Ames has placed second or better in state dual team competition each of the last three seasons, including a 2A title in 2011.

“At first you know that’s kind of a downer that even if we win today it’s a really tough match next,” Christensen said, “but winning today puts us in the top 10 for state, which is something that kind of perked the guys’ ears up this morning.

“This (dual with Southeast Polk) was the difference between tying for 17th or vaulting you into the top 10 with a chance of going higher. Anything can happen.”

The Little Cyclones dispatched MHS 10-1 on April 30 in Marshalltown in their CIC Northern Division clash.

“Ames is loaded as always and will be a huge undertaking even to get a point, let alone a match against them,” Christensen added. “But the guys will be up for it, it will be hopefully a nicer day than today and we can get after it.”

The Bobcats will also make up a CIC North dual at Fort Dodge on Tuesday.